Right now, South African agriculture is probably facing the biggest challenge of our lifetime, and it will be with us for months to come and even years. That is of course the COVID-19 pandemic. All of us across the globe need to find ways to manage our personal and professional lives in a manner that minimises our exposure to the virus.

The Perishable Products Export Control Board (PPECB) has succeeded in doing this admirably while continuing to innovate as a regulator and enabler within the perishable products supply chain.

Adapting to business unusual

As an agriculture value chain partner, PPECB forms part of essential services, has been operational throughout the lockdown period and has embraced the fact that business has become unusual. On a professional level the PPECB has gone to great lengths to ensure that employees adhere to prescribed policies and regulations as well as internal guidelines.

To minimise and absorb the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic employees have been issued with sufficient PPE and hand sanitiser that are supplemented regularly; remote working has become the norm and qualifying employees only visit offices when absolutely necessary. Shifts and rotation schedules have been introduced for frontline employees, and these measures are working well to ensure that the regulatory requirements are adhered to.

Due to the nature of frontline staff activities, positive cases have been reported in especially the Western and Eastern Cape and this has had an impact on our resources. The PPECB’s clients were not spared either, and PPECB Operations PPECB is currently collaborating with clients from the onset of the lockdown period to find solutions to keep operations on both sides ongoing and to ensure the continuation of the supply chain.

Citrus expectations

Southern Africa is expected to export a record of 143.3 million cartons of citrus fruit this season.

This is a 13% increase over 2019 where 126.7 million cartons were exported. The growth is largely a result of new orchards coming into production and good rainfall received across most production regions. PPECB, in line with estimates done by the Citrus Growers Association, expects citrus volumes to increase significantly over the next few years and has been preparing accordingly. Resources on both the inspection and cold chain value streams have been supplemented with permanent staff members, while a pool of temporary employees were trained on variety of product standards.

Halfway through the 2020 citrus season, the outlook is still bullish for a good crop year, although the estimate has been revised slightly down to 143 million cartons. This was mainly due to a decline in the grapefruit crop attributed to poor market conditions. Lemons and soft citrus had a particularly good season thus far as the young plantings showed their teeth.

The pandemic has however caused further inefficiencies in South African ports, impacting on the availability of cold storage space and empty containers that in turn negatively affected the seamless exports of the citrus volumes. The pandemic has already resulted in a decrease in market demand, port closures for some of the Asian destinations and the cancellation of airfreight orders.

Snapshot of a very good year

Listed below are some of the more recent milestones achievements of the PPECB pertaining to the financial year that ended on 31 March 2020:

  • Successfully inspected and certified 5 483 841 tons of perishable products destined for export in terms of quality, food safety and phytosanitary requirements
  • Successfully turning around the PPECB Laboratory into a viable concern
  • Successfully upgrading the PPECB Laboratory’s accreditation from ISO 17025:2005 to ISO 17025:2017
  • The PPECB Food Safety program conducted a total of 1 081 audits and concluded a 3-year project in collaboration with Raisin South Africa whereby a total of 679 fruit drying farmers across South Africa were audited and certified
  • PPECB certification desks processed 156 336 export certificates nationally, an increase of 7% compared to the previous financial year
  • Achieving an 85 % satisfaction rating on annual client satisfaction survey
  • PPECB Employee voted as Vice-Chairperson of the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe Specialized Section on Standardization of Fresh Fruit and Vegetables for the third year
  • PPECB Employee named as a Director of the International Cool Chain Association.

Fruitful innovations

PPECB invested in an electronic platform, Project Titan, to conduct its operational activities. The first iteration of this system was decommissioned in September 2019 and it represents a huge milestone in the PPECB’s history. The second iteration, TITAN 2.0®, was released thereafter with a modular approach focusing on product inspection which went live on 1 October 2019. Integration with industry vendor systems, phytosanitary eCertification, the fruit Tracking Unit Register (TUR) and Phytclean is also in place. A Manual Inspection Solution (MIS) has been released for clients not yet on TITAN 2.0® as a temporary measure to ensure that these clients can participate in electronic certification. The PPECB is currently collaborating with clients for implementation. Further modules include electronic quality export certificates.

The PPECB sees itself as a true partner to the industries it serves and is committed to being both a regulator and an enabler to keep the wheels of the perishable products supply chains turning.

Cyril Julius,
Chief Operations Officer, PPECB

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