SOUTH AFRICA – United Exports, a leading producer and exporter of blueberries in South Africa, has received €14 million (US$13.9m) loan financing from World Bank’s IFC and the Dutch entrepreneurial development bank (FMO), to increase sustainable blueberry production, create jobs, and boost women’s participation in management roles.

The financial backing will support the fruit logistics company to adopt next-generation OZblu® blueberry varieties that fall outside the frost window and expand its blueberry orchards to frost-free areas, including the Western Cape region.

In addition, a third of the funding will be dedicated to climate-smart agriculture practices and will help the company adopt drip irrigation systems and water meters, among other measures.

The support is expected to strengthen United Exports’ agribusiness value chain and create up to 1,340 direct and indirect jobs by 2030.

“Our track record in terms of FDI, foreign earnings, job creation and tackling gender inequality is something we are very proud of, and this has only been possible with the commitment and partnership of IFC and FMO,” said Founder and Executive Chairman of United Exports, Roger Horak.

IFC will also help the company develop training opportunities across all skill levels for new employees and provide capacity building to improve women’s participation in management roles.

“IFC’s longstanding support for United Exports aligns with our strategy to help promote climate-smart agribusiness, create jobs and enhance women’s participation in management in South Africa.

“This project will play a key role in helping to position South Africa as an emerging blueberry production hub,” said IFC Country Manager for South Africa, Adamou Labara.

The financing which also includes advisory support builds on the €30 million (US$29.8m) in funding IFC, FMO, and the Investment Fund for Developing Countries (IFU) provided to United Exports in 2018 to help the company create jobs and boost exports.

IFC and FMO also each provided a €1.5 million (US$1.49m) loan to support the company weather the effects of COVID-19 last year.

“FMO is proud to once again support United Exports to increase financial inclusion across South Africa’s agricultural landscape by investing in the country’s emerging blueberry industry.

“This transaction aligns perfectly with our agri strategy to support sustainable growth with both climate change adaptation and development impact,” said FMO Director of Agribusiness, Food and Water, Pieternel Boogaard.

The agriculture sector accounts for 27 percent of total employment in South Africa but contributes only 2.5 percent to GDP and 1 percent to exports. This presents an opportunity to significantly enhance the sector’s contribution to economic growth.

While the South African blueberry industry is relatively nascent, it plays a key role in supporting small and medium-sized enterprise (SME) farmers, especially in rural areas.

According to Farmers Weekly, South Africa’s 2021/22 blueberry crop was up 60% from that of the previous season, totaling just over 31 520 marketable tons, while export prices were down 14% from those of 2020.

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