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Brief History

Victory through perseverance

The recent publication which celebrates the past 100 years of raisin growing in South Africa, titled "Victory, through perseverance" says a lot about the hard work, determination, community driven and commitment of the South African farmer

Johannes Fourie
(Chairperson of Raisins SA).

Today, both the Orange- and Olifants River create significant wealth to its communities. He further states that the success of the next 100 years, will be determined by our ability to work collectively to realise victory.

Victory, through perseverance
by Joa Bekker

The South African raisin industry is a proud and historic industry, from humble beginnings. Today the SA raisin industry is considered as a global player, producing the world's best raisins. SA is the world's 5th largest exporter of raisins, with more than 88% of its total crop earmarked for premium international markets.

The industry is well organised and represented through its commodity organization ‘Raisins South Africa’. In total 700 growers produces the world's finest product, processed, packaged and exported by 7 processing facilities.

Salient figures for SA's raisin industry are summarised below:
  • SA is internationally recognised for producing top quality raisins;
  • Production is underpinned by strong agronomy and best practices;
  • Annual raisin marketable product is approximately 72 000 dried tons, which will grow to 85 000 ton by 2025;
  • South Africa is one of the only production origins that can produce all major (7) raisin product categories;
  • Produced by approximately 700 growers;
  • The industry has access to 7 world class processing facilities
  • 88% of all products are destined for international market;
  • Industry turnover estimated at R2bn, with its total economic impact estimated at R4bn provided the direct- and indirect value chain linkages.

A historical timeline

Early History (1652 – 1900)

Where and how did it all begin? 1658 ... Jan van Riebeeck planted 1 200 vines, among them Hanepoot for raisins. In 1688 the French Huguenots also planted vines in ‘Wagenmakers vallei’ (now better known as Wellington). Governor Simon van der Stel exported raisins and mebos to his homeland.

The first medal is won by Mr. JP Jordaan of Goudini for his raisins at the British Empire Exhibition in 1833. Piet Cillie says in his day already that farmers were slow to adopt to new methods and that the Government should send someone to California to gain knowledge and see the fruit cultivation in practice.

During 1893, the Department of Agriculture sent Cillie to California where he spent eight months gaining experience and sending reports back to SA on the cultivation and handling of dry grapes and dried fruits. He was later nicknamed Piet California.

Establishment of Industry (1919 – 1944)

The flourishing sultana industry at Kakamas must be regarded as a monument to the achievements of Piet California. As early as 1898 he had recommended that sultana cuttings be planted along the Orange River in the area which is today the biggest sultana-producing region in SA. He played a major role in establishing the settlement of Kakamas and in 1920 he was appointed a member of the labour settlement commission. Soon afterwards, he was elected chairman, an office which he held until his death on September 27th, 1942. It is due to his vision that the great River area today produces sultana types that are among the best in the world.

Post World War II (1944 – 1969)

Just after World War II, the production of raisins did not rise as expected, as several cooperatives were established to facilitate wine grapes. The production of wine grapes was also much easier than making raisins, with less risk.

Quality focussed approach (1969 – 1994)

During this period, orderly grading, marketing and export inspections were conducted. The quality of our raisins was at its best at this time. The board builds up reserves in times of prosperity and again supports prices in difficult times. The promotion of our raisins is done by SAD, as it is the only brand under which our raisins are sold. During this time, great friendships are built with other production countries that we are very kind to. Agronomists play a major role in convincing farmers of better training systems, the use of rootstocks, new cultivars and the right drying methods to obtain the best quality.

Free market era (1994 – 2017)

During 1999 was the year when dry conditions, quality of raisins and vineyard production were all very favourable together with good raisin prices. That year we looked back at 15 years with an average price increase of 15% per year. Mr. Charl van Schoor said in 1999 that if a producer did not make good money with raisins at the time, there were big red lights for him.

Focussed Raisins approach (2017 – current)

Over the past 5 years various formal sessions were held, to restructure the Dried Fruit Industry in SA (previously known as Dried Fruit Technical), to better serve its grower members.

During the course of 2018, a final strategic decision was made to move away under the ‘umbrella’ of Hortgro Services and to embark upon a ‘new path’ to establish and grow the industry's own identity and capacity with a focus on value creation for its value chain participants and stakeholders. The restructuring was concluded towards the end of 2018, and on the 1st of January 2019 Raisins SA's new Memorandum of Incorporation (MOI) was officially accepted by the registrar of Companies in SA.

Raisins SA is now an active industry organisation driving key strategic priorities, which is outline in our strategic plan “Raisin Industry Strategic Exercise”, or more commonly known Project RISE. This strategy serves as the blueprint to direct industry's activities.