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Beverage manufacturer SAB is upbeat about bagging 1.1-million lime fruit in its first harvest after injecting R19m into local production of the crop.

A lime shortage in SA saw the group take steps to ensure security of supply by embarking on the Moletele lime initiative in Limpopo.

While limes are grown in SA, other citrus fruits are far more profitable and are favoured by farmers. Of the country’s more than 90,000ha of citrus orchards, less than 10% of the land is dedicated to limes.

The public-private partnership formed between SAB, the Moletele Community Property Association and Komati Fruit Group, alongside the department of agriculture & rural development, has now seen about 34,000 trees in the 60ha Moretele farm produce the SAB-required limes, with the surplus being exported to other markets.

Speaking to Business Day on Wednesday, SAB executive Zoleka Lisa said the group aimed to ensure that the beer produced is local and inclusive, highlighting that 95% of SAB’s raw materials for its products came from SA.

“Agriculture is the bedrock of our country and also of our industry,” Lisa said. “A lack of local supply of limes was affecting SA Breweries’ Corona beer’s authentic drinking ritual. The solution was a novel opportunity to invest in lime farming and in boosting local production. Emerging farmers and their communities were significantly empowered.”

SAB has invested R19m into the initiative during the four-year partnership which has gone towards procuring machinery, equipment, upskilling and the technology necessary to ensure that the limes are available all year round.

Highlighting that the company’s value chain supports 250,000 livelihoods, Lisa said the lime initiative was taking SAB’s localisation a step further after the company started producing Corona in SA in recent years at its multiple local plants.

“Going local is a no-brainer, it creates jobs,” said Lisa. “We will be buying the limes from this initiative because we need them for our Corona and to put them into our retail value chain,” she said, emphasising the reliance of the beer industry on the agricultural sector, “so we will always invest in it”.

Agriculture minister Thoko Didiza said public-private partnerships and localisation are the foundations of building a sustainable sector.

She said the transformative collaborations, which the department began honing in over the past four years, would bolster the progress of the agricultural agro-processing master plan — a multi-stakeholder social compact which aims to promote competitiveness and transformation in agriculture and agro-processing sectors by increasing food security and accelerating the opening of markets and better access conditions.

“There is a potential that still is untapped in the agricultural economy of this country,” Didiza said, adding that the model of the lime initiative could be replicated across SA in other areas.

“This collaboration sets a positive precedent for future community-private partnerships in agriculture, showing a great potential to drive sustainable economic development.”

The project employs 12 people and seasonal workers from the community are hired during peak periods. All the proceeds from the sales of Moletele Corona Limes go back to the 1,615 families that make up the Moletele Community, SAB said.

Calling on SAB and other investors to continue investing in localisation, chair of the Moletele Community Property Association, Albert Thabane, said expansion and scale would aid in ensuring the sustainability of local jobs.

“Land is still available. If the demand is still high, we can increase the hectarage,” Thabane said.

Lisa said while the lime initiative was still fresh, with some components being fine-tuned, she said SAB would be taking heed of the community and ministers’ suggestions of expansion. “Watch this space,” she said, “something is brewing.”

The AB InBev-owned group brews, manufactures, markets and distributes a range of malt-based and other alcoholic beverages across SA.

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