Much progress has been made in the development of the Sustainable Fruit Initiative over the last few months. As the Grabouw pilot programme draws to a close, we have begun to engage with commercial farming entities in the Eastern Cape. Here we lay out the structure, processes and insights that have evolved through our engagement in the Grabouw pilot region.
Blue North, in collaboration with WWF-SA, has developed the content behind the SFI, which is structured around four environmental categories – water, energy & materials, soil, and farm ecosystem. The content is developed within a clear and logical hierarchy comprised of the Goal, the Principles necessary to achieve the Goal and the Criteria (or detailed outcomes) consistent with the fulfillment of each Principle. The lowest level of the hierarchy are the Indicators, which are objective measures intended to help infer the status or health of the criteria and high-level principles. The set of proposed indicators are very important in that they provide the feedback through which growers can identify environmental risks or shortcomings, track the progress of specific interventions, and to help in the identification of those practices that support the achievement of ecologically sustainable farming (as well as to identify those which are not).
As previously outlined, this framework and content is being ‘tested’ through a pilot programme spanning four fruit production regions across South Africa (Palmiet, Olifants, Gamtoos, and Nkomati river catchments). The pilot entails working through the content over a series of workshops with a representative ‘study group’ primarily made up of commercial farming entities from each pilot region. The first round of the Pilot programme commenced last year in the Palmiet River catchment and ran through November and December. The Palmiet region pilot is being concluded now and engagement has already started with the next phase, the citrus industry in the Gamtoos River catchment. The Olifants and Nkomati River catchments will follow later in the year.
As we entered into the Palmiet pilot programme towards the end of 2013, the challenges of working with a large group were quickly realised and the decision was taken to shift the focus to four smaller study groups centered around the main commercial entities in the region, being Fruitways, KROMCO, Two-A-Day and Molteno Brothers. To date, two workshops have been held with each of these groups in Grabouw (a total of eight workshops). The first workshop entailed an introduction to the content behind the SFI and the conducting of a self-assessment against the Principles and Criteria of the P,C&I framework. During the second workshop, feedback was given to participants based on the self-assessment results, participants gave feedback on the content and self-assessment process, and participants were then introduced to a proposed set of Indicators.
The purpose of the self-assessment process is two-fold: Firstly, it provides a means through which farms and farming organisations can strategically evaluate their ecological sustainability and areas of relative strength and weakness in this regard. Being a self-assessment it is by its nature subjective, nevertheless it is designed to provide a robust and valuable strategic perspective. Secondly it encourages a deeper and more detailed engagement with the SFI content – the rationale behind the selected Goal as well as each of the Principles and Criteria is made explicit through the self-assessment process. The self-assessment has therefore provided a very practical mechanism for the industry stakeholders to get to grips with the thinking behind the SFI and to contribute meaningfully to the evolution of its content.
Most recently, a stakeholder workshop was held in Grabouw on the 20th January, where Blue North and WWF-SA facilitated further discussion around the proposed indicators. This workshop brought the four study groups back together with one or two representatives from each of Fruitways, KROMCO, Two-A-Day and Molteno Brothers attending. The outcome of the workshop is a set of Indicators agreed on by all the particpants as being the minimum set of metrics that are both practical to implement at farm level, and sufficiently relevant to support the implementation of the SFI on Apple and Pear farms in South Africa. This represents an important milestone in the development of the SFI and the contributions of all the farmers, technical managers and other personnel over the past few months is greatly valued and appreciated. Formal feedback on the status of the content will be shared with the participating companies as well as industry associations in due course.
Given the lessons learned through the Palmiet catchment phase of the pilot, a similar approach to the other three pilot regions through 2014 is going to be followed. However, it is expected that the content will continue to evolve to more specifically reflect the differences and specific features of the commodities and regions that are to be engaged with through 2014. We will keep you updated on progress at regular intervals.
Again , thank you to the farmers and personnel from the Fruitways, KROMCO, Two-a-Day and Molteno Brothers organisations, for your time and contributions to the development of the SFI, and wishing you all a very successful and sustainable year ahead!
Blue North and WWF-SA