South Africa’s expansive blueberry orchard United Exports gets US$3.6m support from IFC, FMO

Image source: Ozblu berries

SOUTH AFRICA – United Exports, leading producer and exporter of blueberries in South Africa has clinched a €3 million (US$3.6m) loan financing from IFC and the Dutch entrepreneurial development bank (FMO) to support its ongoing capital expenditure projects and help maintain local farmers’ access to markets and employment.

The €3 million (US$3.6m) loan includes €1.5 million (US$1.8m) from IFC and a €1.5 million (US$1.8m) loan from FMO.

United Exports sells its blueberries under its proprietary OZblu brand within South Africa and exports roughly 90 percent of its output to markets outside Africa.

“The additional liquidity from the lenders will help us to continue with our capex investments and continue to create jobs and ensure we continue to deliver on our product quality objectives.”

Jon Salters, United Exports CEO

The company employs around 3,800 permanent and seasonal workers and since the COVID-19 outbreak it has invested extensively in its operations e.g., put in place social distancing facilities and provision of PPEs to protect its employees, while maintaining growth and jobs in the sector.

“Despite the difficulties, we have continued our growth trajectory during the COVID-19 pandemic. The additional liquidity from the lenders will help us to continue with our capex investments and continue to create jobs and ensure we continue to deliver on our product quality objectives,” said Jon Salters, United Exports CEO.

According to IFC, United Exports also plans to expand the size of its orchards. To this end the company seeks to add up to 150 new permanent jobs and roughly 1,250 seasonal jobs at the peak picking season this year.

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Other than ensuring continued operation and growth of the company, the financing is giving a boost to the blueberry sector which according to the Western Cape Department of Agriculture employs 5,700 people.

The fruit is an increasingly important product for South Africa, with production climbing to 18,000 metric tons in 2019/20 from 11,000 the year before, according to the South Africa Berry Producers Association.

“The blueberry industry is one of South Africa’s fastest growing agricultural sectors. In berry growing regions, this superfood boosts job creation.

“With this COVID-facility we will help United Exports maintain local berry farmers’ access to markets and employment,” said Hans Bogaard, Manager: Agriculture, Food & Water at FMO.

IFC’s portion of the financing comes from its COVID-19 fast track facility, a global fund announced in March 2020 to support industries vital to job creation and economic growth. Agriculture and agribusiness are important sources of jobs and export earnings in South Africa, which has been badly hit by the pandemic.

“With COVID-19 creating uncertainty across value chains and sectors, it’s now more critical than ever to support companies vital for job creation and growth, especially in the agribusiness sector,” said Adamou Labara, IFC’s country manager for South Africa.

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