PINEAPPLE producers in the Bathurst area near Port Alfred are bracing for losses in the wake of the recent floods that washed away a section of the R72 between East London and Port Elizabeth.

Eastern Cape pineapple industry players said in an interview with the Daily Dispatch that the recent flooding in their area had put exports to Europe and Argentina under threat and could result in job losses for seasonal workers, who are usually hired to harvest their crops. The industry expects to lose millions of rands, hundreds of work hours and incur additional transport costs to fill its orders.

The flood damage, which affected 24 pineapple farmers, has dealt the pineapple industry yet another blow after recovering from a “toxic” fertiliser scare which led to Eastern Cape pineapple products being rejected by European markets in 2008.

In 2009, the pineapple sector embarked on a turnaround strategy which saw it move towards a zero waste operation to produce food, juice and fibre from different parts of the pineapple. But the project manager for the province’s pineapple sector fears they will not be able to fulfil all their contractual obligations this season.

“At this time of the year we are usually preparing to export to Europe and Argentina, but we may battle to honour some of our contracts with our customers,” said project manager Anthony Albers.

The Pineapple Growers’ Association’s Bruce Venter described the situation as a catastrophe which could result in losses exceeding half of its expected yield.

“We can usually get 2 500 tons out to market per week.

“This week we’ll be lucky if we get to 900 tons,” Venter told the Dispatch. “It will affect a host of things in the farmlands.

“It has been hard to get into the fields to harvest. There is also the ripple effect on our value chain and productivity. It means some of the workers at the factory will be paid for doing nothing.”

Albers said the flood damage on the R72 means pineapple growers would have to fork out more for transport as they would have to negotiate a longer route to the market.

“It’s a catastrophe. We have lost two weeks of productivity.

“A lot of roads have been washed away and there is a ban on heavy trucks on the R72.

“It will be difficult to get produce out from the farms and that will add to transport costs,” said Albers.

Democratic Alliance spokesperson on roads and public works Pine Pienaar said urgent action was required to mitigate further losses to infrastructure and business.

“Our economy in the Eastern Cape could be seriously damaged and jobs could be lost as a result of these infrastructure collapses. Road infrastructure is like the veins in our bodies and therefore we need to take good care of it,” said Pienaar.

“I hope politicians will react swiftly like the citizens of our province who assisted each other, so we are not faced with a situation such as in the past where there were floods a few years ago and we are still to this day waiting for a budget to repair the infrastructure damage that occurred to our roads.”

Last Thursday finance minister Pravin Gordhan announced a R4-billion contingency budget would be set aside for next year, but it was unclear how much of that would go to the Eastern Cape. —