Pineapples make sweet return

A member of the Bingqala Pineapple Co-operative near Peddie shows the progress of the pineapple community project which was started in 2014. /Supplied
A member of the Bingqala Pineapple Co-operative near Peddie shows the progress of the pineapple community project which was started in 2014. /Supplied

Villagers who revived disused pineapple farms in Bingqala, south of Peddie in the Eastern Cape, have built a growing agricultural enterprise.

The Bingqala Pineapple Co-operative was started in 2014 by community members who were employees of the farming projects which were funded and managed by the Ciskei Agricultural Corporation (Ulimocor).

In the late 1990s Ulimocor closed shop, and the pineapple farms suffered. But five years ago, community members remembered what had been feeding them in years gone by, and that's how the pineapple farms were revived.

Bingqala co-operative manager Litha Zitshu says farming pineapples has created jobs in his community.

Things are looking up as the nine-member board of Bingqala co-operative has secured a supply contract with East London food processor Summerpride Foods.

Zitshu said they had been enjoying a steady increase in production volumes and turnover. And as the business grows, they hope to hire more local people.

"Revenue per year ranges from R800,000 to R1m, and when prices are good it can go up to R1.5m. We currently have 35 employees, of which 25 are permanent.

"When we harvest in April and May, more [casual workers] come in to help, and again around September harvest," Zitshu said.

He said the co-op, which currently cultivates only 70 hectares of its 583 hectares, plans to expand by 20ha every year.

While it produced 1,000 tons last year, it has already achieved a yield of 800 tons thus far this year and therefore expects volumes to almost double.

He said despite the growing produce, falling market prices were a challenge.

"This year, the market price is low at R1,000 per ton, but in 2016 it was R2,600. With pineapple juice being sold overseas, our returns are affected by [global] markets," said Zitshu.

"With the increase in production, we hope to be able to make up for the fall in prices so that we can achieve our revenue target."

He added that the provincial department of rural development helped revive the business. - Vuk'uzenzele

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