Barberton Blueberries scores big on its first harvest

For Pan African’s Barberton Mines operations and for members of host communities in Barberton, our blueberry farm’s inaugural harvest in 2022 left a very sweet taste.

Our mines are the only source of formal employment in the regions where we operate and it’s critical we play an active role in developing secondary economic activities that can support and sustain our host communities, now and in the future. The mine cannot provide employment for the entire region, and other innovative and sustainable solutions are required to support the local economy of the region.

That’s why the first harvest of blueberries at our Barberton Blueberry project this year is such a landmark moment.

A labour-intensive crop well-suited to Barberton’s climate and geography, and with high upward demand in both local and international markets, blueberry farming has already created close to 400 jobs – permanent and seasonal – in its first phase.

This phase includes 96 000 under-tunnel blueberry plants on 15-ha of land made available by Barberton Mines, and includes a state-of-the-art irrigation system. The first harvest, which commenced earlier this year and will last through to November, is expected to yield some 300 tonnes of high-quality fruit, after which yields are expected to increase. In so doing, this rich harvest rubberstamped the long-term commercial sustainability of the project, and supports our objectives of growing this to a 45-ha commercial farm, as funding becomes available for phases two and three.

A win for all stakeholders

Once fully developed, blueberry farming will provide almost 1 200 jobs for the communities. But already, its unlocked immense socio-economic benefits for the communities around Barberton Mines.

It’s provided a much-needed stream of income for many local community members, which has injected new life into the local economy, increasing purchasing power and local trade. For many, it is the first stream of steady income they have received, as unemployment in the area, especially youth unemployment, is higher even than the national average.

In addition, it has reinforced Pan African Resources’ social licence to operate in the area, growing community support and buy-in for our operations. Goodwill towards the Group has cultivated excellent relations, and in understanding the value of our presence in the area, community members continue to play an active and important role in protecting our assets from illegal miners.

A red machine with extending arms harvesting blueberries from green trees on either side of it and with netting in the background

Agribusiness expertise

To ensure the success of this project in a sector where Pan African doesn’t have the appropriate knowledge and skills, we enlisted the expertise of agribusiness specialist Primocane Capital to lead the design, project implementation and build of the facility.

Primocane specified everything from selecting the right blueberry cultivars to defining the farming process and methodology and infrastructure requirements. This has ensured not only a successful first harvest, but also that the farm functions cost-effectively and sustainably for maximum profitability – a benefit that is shared with our host communities and the economy of the region as a whole.

Rows of harvesting vegetation with white nets above it and mountains in the background