Anton Rabe, Executive Director of Hortgro, addressed the Hortgro Technical Symposium in a pre-recorded message. By Kara van der Berg.
Rabe spoke about the deciduous fruit industry’s current circumstances as well as its vision and ideas for the future, as uncertain as it may be.
“In the current business environment, agriculture, specifically, is becoming a very complex arena. The challenge we have from Hortgro’s perspective is that we must balance long-term strategic issues with short-term operational issues.
“We must make sure that we link with our various governance structures in terms of mandate,” said Rabe, “whilst capacity and expertise on a user-pay basis are housed within operational structures within a public-private partnership or seconded-type arrangement. We are fortunate that there are still some pockets of excellence in the public sphere, and we also need to mobilise those.”
Within the challenging South African environment, Rabe stressed the importance of industry structures such as Hortgro taking charge of their own destiny, without trying to be everything to everybody. “We need to focus on those things where we have the biggest impact and to ensure an enabling environment utilising limited resources as cost-effectively as possible.”
Rabe highlighted some examples of this taking-charge mentality: projects and programmes within Hortgro Science, plant material, trade, market compliance, transformation, and training.
A bottom-up approach
“The pome- and stone-fruit industries, currently housed within Hortgro Pome and Hortgro Stone, opted not to create capacity for themselves but to share operational capacity within Hortgro,” explained Rabe. The total area currently planted is 54 544 hectares, of which about 70% is pome and 30% stone fruit.
The principle that underpins industry services is a bottom-up approach, beginning with area- and fruit-type representation. This means that everything starts and ends with the grower. Decision-making processes are grower-focused, grower-driven, and grower-mandated.
“Ultimately, we have to make sure that our growers are informed, and that we have a clear mandate for those functions and activities that we need to deal with,” said Rabe.
Producer councils are in place, and Hortgro has representatives in the various fruit-growing areas. They control the budgets and industry levies, appoint small, portfolio-driven boards that execute and provide strategic oversight, and communicate with producers.
The operational functions and services pooled within Hortgro are shared with other sub-structures to manage overheads as cost-effectively as possible. Hortgro currently offers services to 35 different entities, groups, and focus groups, including the Tissue Culture Facility, Fruit Fly Africa, the South African Fruit Journal, and Culdevco. These sub-structures are housed in free-standing legal entities with their own governance and operational capacity.
The aim is to help reduce the cost for the pome- and stone-fruit industries. “On an annual basis, the statutory levies that we currently administer for pome, stone and Fruit Fly total about R135 million,” said Rabe.
“To make sure funds are utilised optimally is a huge responsibility that we take very seriously. Depending on the year, another R200 – R250 million worth of user-pay services, grants and other income is administered and accounted for within Hortgro.”
Adapting to new challenges
Rabe also pointed out that Hortgro is an ever-changing body that has come far since deregulation in 1997 when industry services started within the Deciduous Fruit Producers’ Trust.
“The Hortgro of today is substantially different from the Hortgro that took over those services in 2007. I believe that Hortgro will keep on changing with an evolutionary and fit-for-purpose mindset.” Rabe is confident that the industry service structure will continue to adapt to ensure relevance and cost-effective services and functions.
Hortgro works within a four-year cycle with a strategic framework to guide services and functions mandated by producers. The current cycle runs from 2019–2023 and is aligned with eleven different programmes.
“We are already mapping out the framework for the 2024–2028 cycle, which will include the strategic issues identified within the Hortgro Vision of the Future process to ensure continuous change and adaptation to the environment we function in,” said Rabe.
Rabe highlighted four key challenges that need to be addressed for the industry to prosper: trade and market access, production issues, transformation, and funding. “The challenge has shifted in recent years. Just retaining markets has become a real challenge.”
Production issues have mainly been linked to climate change, for example changing patterns of pests and diseases, water shortages, and lower yields. Transformation and BEE remain challenges though progress has been made, according to Rabe.
Funding is the final key challenge as Rabe believes there are too many agri-entities and that these should be consolidated. Stable funding, especially based on statutory levies, remains a major concern as these cannot be increased much from the current levels. “Doing more and doing differently will be our focus,” he said.
Rabe thinks that all the issues facing the industry can be overcome eventually. “Fearless leadership is needed going forward. That’s the name of the game. We have to be sensitive to the environment we are operating in, but we don’t have to ask for permission or make excuses for doing what is right.”
Image: Anton Rabe, Executive Director of Hortgro. Supplied by Peartree Photography.