Johan Van Der Westhuizen – Fruit Export Quality Assurance in Africa: Challenges and Solutions.
Thank you very much for joining us again and for tuning in today. My name is Kingsly. I’m your host and today I’m talking to Johan. We will be discussing the topic: Fruit Export Quality Assurance in Africa their challenges and solutions.
Johan, for the past twenty-five years, you have worked in the fruits and vegetable industry in South Africa, supplying some of the best quality products in the international market.
What has been the most interesting part of the work you do?
Good day, Kingsly. Well for me the biggest and most important part of my work is all the collaboration and the import and export industry. The most interesting part of the work is that it changes every year, new opportunities, there’s continuous development, and everybody in the industry loves the produce.
That is the bottom line. We want to get the best quality out there and you want to receive it in the market. Interestingly enough, there was never a dull moment in this industry. Nobody’s perfect.
Everybody has very only opinions and it changes your own. Yeah. And there’s new standards and sometimes the interpretations of a product quality every year.
There’s also a lot of new standards or changes to the standards. What comes along the global gap has made a big difference from a viewpoint of Africa. And we need to organize the ideas between the exporters and the importing country.
Also, there’s from an African perspective, a lot of new markets becoming available to us. It’s not just a normal EU or America, and a lot of exports are now going to the far east, south America and internally in countries in Africa itself. For me, very interesting is to see new people entering the market.
There’s a lot of new developments, private funding, and it enables people to basically. Internet market and standards, it’s still in the infant stage in some countries, but that is very interesting to see, how startups can turn into long term enterprises.
I’ve noticed some of this new entrance in the Southern African market. And it got me wondering or thinking I saw on the news the riots in South Africa some of the shops that will lose it.
We also heard that infrastructures, like the Durban thought, had some disruptions as well. So can you just tell us a little bit about how this impacted the food industry? Given that, the Durban port is used by some of the exporters to export their fruits from South Africa to other parts of the world. And how can exporters mitigate such risks in the future?
Yes, that was quite an unfortunate incident, but you know, I’d lost it for about a week. Having mitigated the problem at that stage was a lot of farmers had to stop picking and a lot of the fruit was left behind in the stores because it couldn’t be shipped out of Durban and prove that to be rooted to different August.
Unfortunately, some sprinkling too. We also add a cyber-attack on our bus which led to mobilisation. And as you know this fruit has to be because most fruit is out in containers, serpents at the plugging points, and it’s just not fruit. It’s fruit, vegetables, meat. It’s the whole supply chain that was influenced. This is the first time this has happened.
I think people are looking at their eye-level at all. We can actually. Mitigate this in the future because all season of citrus is going down to Durban at the moment and we have a big season. And if this happens again or something like this will happen in the future, you’re going to have a big problem.
Volumes arising, we just can’t delay certain markets. And also you’ve got programs in place that must be full. Otherwise, you’re going to lose those markets. If you can’t have a continuous supply of fruit from a security side, obviously all this will be more predicted and also on the cyber side there’s a lot of talk of how they can implement better systems.
So that, that doesn’t happen again in future. And it doesn’t disrupt the chain in the process of delivering the fruit to the foreign markets.
Okay. So I understand you, some training programs where you look at fruit export quality so you speak with expertise on the South African or Southern African market who are exporting to foreign markets and you advise them on how to prepare their shipments to, to ensure they’re getting the best.
Quality possible that the perishable industry, it is, it is a hot topic. And often the seller and the buyer finds themselves disagreeing on the quality of their produce and loading. So what practical steps can be taken by exporters to ensure the quality of their products, but also.
The evidence to show that the quality to show the quality of their products and, and how is the PPECB helping this process, but for those who are listening to us and who may not be aware of the PPECB.
This is the perishable produce export control board in South Africa. So if you can just tell us a little bit your, on how, how this board is helping to ensure the quality of produce coming out of South Africa. The exporters themselves can do to ensure the quality of their produce. Yes.
I think the baseline for all quality is that they must be honesty in the system, what you supply must be exactly what the guy sees on the other side.
When you do a shipment there must be evidence sent to the foreign market where you can see the quality that was loaded on the side but we actually limit claims on the other side, but you’re actually on the same page. Also standards, standards differ, although it’s aligned all over the world, slightly interpretation differences occur between a different.
Parts of the world. So, do you do your inspection, do you get your results and what are the exact tolerance for certain things you do differ between if you send it from Africa to Europe or Africa to the far east or Africa to America? So 90% are the same, but 10% is where the problem lies where people do differ in the interpretation of how it’s done.
Once you can get that right. And you enter the supplier and the foreign market on the same page that would limit a lot of the misunderstanding or quality claims but might be more market related, but the quality itself with regards to the PPECB, the PPECB or the perishable products export control board was a huge help in South Africa.
By when I found that it was normally previously government in the nineties, early nineties, I moved to the PPECB in the beginning PPECB was just in August and did fruit and vegetable inspections as fruit went out now PPECB is on-farm, which means as the load is loaded up the buyer do the quality check on the minimums of African standards.
South African standards are aligned with the international standards so the minimum quality of goes out of the country is compliant. With what the foreign government wants additional to that. You’ve got your private standards that are applied, but that is not done by the PPECB. They are focused on minimum standards.
So the main focus and how they helped us is that basically by do old culture. So the coated chain is managed by PPECB in South Africa, but it’s a huge help to ensure that cold storage claims arise along the line. There is adequate information about the process also on the quality side, I’ve got an electronic ease certificate, which means that everything from based sides to physical quality is available if needed in this case of a serious claim.
PPECB is really as a body. It helps us manage our export of fresh produce.
Just tell us a little bit more about this, this quality assurance or quality standards from South Africa or getting on the same information between the buyer and the seller. How is it currently done today in the south African market?
How are exporters or fruit growers sharing that information with their buyers? What do they do to ensure that their buyers know the quality of the products that they’re about to ship to them?
Well, in most cases as most exporters and we’ve got more than a hundred exporters. Normally it’s, everybody’s got their privacy standards.
Some companies do share it between themselves and the clients. In other cases, on the most basic level, people send photos on WhatsApp of the quality that was inspected and the buyer approves if he likes it or not. The difficulty in this situation is. South African standards or African standards and European standards.
As I said, previously, they do not fully blend the same, the interpretation is slightly different. We would do say a great inspection would mean we will take as several barriers. And the vetted effect, we will count it as a percentage. For example, in the EU market, I will weigh those berries, but were defective and work out on the same page and not more than 10% is allowed.
So the slight differentiation there does make for interpretation differences on the quality. That’s standards are very well thought out in the sense that it was done over many, many years. In compliance with the EU. And we also have now a lot of differentiators standards as more markets became available the standards for far east China.
Oh, steady shipments, which is a special coat treatment that shipments that are available these days, Americas each country is that their specific standards where tolerances differ from country to country. And that is as part of bilateral agreements between governments.
It’s interesting. You mentioned the use of WhatsApp to share photographs. And the reason why I pick this up is because of the work that we are doing with some of the exporters in South Africa, and this came up in one of the conversations. So we understood that you know as they, the source fruit to export fruits, to other parts of the world, the buyers would.
Often provide evidence of the outturn or the cargo using WhatsApp. And it was very difficult for them to verify, you know, whether or not this photo was actually of the produce, which they had exported to the buyer.
In some cases, because of the language barrier, it was difficult for them to draw inference from the photographs which they have been sent using WhatsApp and just, to plugin here with the service or the solution that we are providing to the market which helps exporters, but also importers to collect.
And share objective evidence of the product in transit or pre-shipment and post-shipment. I think that this would help solve some of the problems that you have just highlighted, but let us move on and look at the relationship between the Southern African market and the wider African market. What are some of the biggest challenges, facing fruit growers and exporters in the Southern African market today?
Apart from South Africa, we’ve got Kenya, Ghana, Uganda, Cameroon… All these places are supplying a lot of produce into a lot of European markets. Over the past few years, there’s been a lot of investment from private companies in Africa as a whole. I think the biggest issue at the moment is compliance with certain standards.
To get your fruit and vegetables into those markets. These dentists are very important to the export business, but it is also very expensive to certain get certified in certain areas like a look at, and we’ve got the ethical trade. We’ve got like a Caesar program in South Africa looking at labour all those are very expensive programs and the education part of that is sometimes lacking, especially if you’re a new farmer or a small farmer that wants to get your product out there into the export market.
The cost of it, sometimes limits people, entering the market’s only available if you can get private funding, government funding, or you are with an exporter, that’s willing to help you on that part. That’s I think the biggest challenge, and there’s a lot of smaller farmers. We shouldn’t call them smaller farmers because they produce a lot.
But they don’t have access to that information or knowledge or technical skills. One of the biggest obstacles is pesticide-based asides. And the testing of that is a very expensive part. So funding was available so that we can justify those costs to export farmers that would already be a big help to open the market for them.
Over the last few years, we have had a lot of climatic changes and that wreaks havoc with the produce. I’ve recently seen farmers struggle to get their vegetables to grow big problems in certain areas with light fruit. But obviously the lighter it is in the season in certain areas, when it’s supplied, then you get less money for it.
And it doesn’t become viable to export it into what we call the overseas market, which could be Europe, America, or far east China, all those places. And I think there’s a lot of information that can be shared by various countries to help the African continent by CP move forward from this or bilateral agreements that can be made so that they produce can enter the market on a successful long-term basis without actually having to go through all the rate type of the process.
You make a very interesting point there. I remember a couple of years ago, we’re talking with some of our clients in South Africa who are looking to import out of season fruits from other parts of Africa. So where they were Egypt or Kenya. One of our clients is moving bananas from Ghana to South Africa and it was quite challenging.
It was quite challenging because. Understandably there’s Southern African or the South African market is quite protective of its industry. And it has concerns when importing foods from other parts of Africa and with, with what you’re just seeing, I think there’s a need for more of these African countries to come together.
To create alternative markets because we see many African countries struggling, putting money together to reach foreign markets. And these are typically the European or Asian markets, but I think we fail to see what is immediately in front of us. There’s a huge opportunity for the Africans, on the African continent.
If we can just come up with these standards that are acceptable to African countries. Well, many of the problems that, that food exporters face, within the African context will be solved. I think. I was looking at your profile the other day, and I noticed that your issue on the courses to fruit exporters or fruit growers on the continent.
I’d just like you to tell our audience a little bit more about what is it you do? What is the content of some of these courses that you are running and how can they benefit from it? Can you just tell us a little bit more about that?
When I started a few years back, obviously with the COVID changes. That had to be made, in the past, we did a training on fresh produce. That’s basically in titles. Most people in the industry now produce. So sometimes if you tell people about training, I think, yes, I know apples. So I know citrus but what are we doing is. Online, we supplying training courses and materials.
So if you can identify defects that are commonly found at source or in the market, and also interpret that with regards to what is allowed regarding the tolerance of it. And also what to do if you find. We also have subjects like mine. If it’s something inspection, sampling procedures, I know that’s stuff it’s a lot of people can do.
But at the level of the packhouse where it’s grassroots level, a lot of people use new labour every season. So those people need to be inducted and [00:17:00] properly trained. Our training is very visual, which means that we actually in the simplest form is an image with an explanation and a tolerance giving you immediate comprehension of what the standard for say a class one or class two is so we can go in and do the packing and sorting and the QC at the package.
All material because it runs online can also be downloaded on any device. So we can do phones or where it’s an iPhone or Android-based, which means that you can use these courses as a reference guide, which is basically on your phone. If you want to inspect the field, in the field somewhere, and you can use that information for further assistance.
We also do a basic, if you got a specific standard or specific client we do customize and do it just for you. So basically we’ll take your standard, like what you need, and we will just do a specific standard just for you. So in total, we focus on many products, which is your citrus, your palm fruit, which is apples and pears, grapes all your various kinds the subtropical fruit and then we also do vegetables.
That is fantastic. So for the listeners out there, I think it is no question that South Africa is a leader on the African continent and perhaps one of the leaders in the global market when it comes to fruits trade and or fruit exports. So for those on the African continent that are looking to export their goods to the rest of the world. It may not be a bad idea to tap into the knowledge base of, Johan who has been working in the industry for the past 25 years and has worked with some of the big-name companies that you aspire to be like at some point.
If any of our listeners today are looking to purchase your courses or maybe to get in touch with you, how do that? Can you just share your contact information with us, maybe the website or email addresses they could use?
I’m available obviously on WhatsApp and I will give you a south African number, 0027716869701. And also my email address is email@example.com. So on any of those platforms. You can contact me and I’ll, we’ll give you dependent on your basic information on each course, and also you can get it for your personnel or courses.
So we as a company do not charge peruse, but basically for your company that purchases it for your use.
Fantastic. So there you have it. Ladies and gentlemen, we have been talking today to Johan Van Der Westhuizen. Thank you very much for joining us for sharing your thoughts with us, for sharing your experience with our audience is much appreciated. And I look forward to talking to you again soon.
Thank you very much.