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Stellenbosch University (2022)

Exploring the social-ecological drivers and impacts of the blueberry boom in South Africa

Fourie, Michelle

Titre : Exploring the social-ecological drivers and impacts of the blueberry boom in South Africa

Auteur : Fourie, Michelle

Université de soutenance : Stellenbosch University

Grade : Master of Science (MScConsEcol ) 2022

Résumé partiel
Since 2015 there has been a rapid increase in blueberry production within South Africa, with most of the industry focused on exporting the fresh fruit. Despite the recent emergence of the blueberry industry, it contributed over R1 billion in export revenue in 2020. To date, little research has been conducted to understand what is driving the growth in the blueberry industry, what impacts the industry has on the local environment and community and how vulnerable the industry is to external shocks. Because the industry is focused on exports, this study explored the social-ecological drivers and impacts of the industry using the telecoupling framework. The thesis consists of 5 Chapters. Chapter 1 introduces the blueberry industry in South Africa, while Chapter 2 introduces the telecoupling framework, which allows for a combination of qualitative and quantitative methods. In Chapter 3, I analysed interview data with individuals in the blueberry industry using a deductive thematic analysis approach as a qualitative method to investigate the drivers of increasing adoption of blueberry production in South Africa. In Chapter 4, I used a life cycle assessment (LCA) as a quantitative method to analyse the social-ecological impact of the blueberry industry in South Africa. Chapter 5 provides a set of conclusions. Chapter 3 identified seven key drivers that contributed to the adoption of blueberry farming. These drivers included (1) the perceived profitability due to the high market value of blueberries on the export market, (2) access to start-up capital as loans or investment to afford the high start-up cost of blueberry production, (3) the growing market with an increasing number of blueberry consumers in richer countries, (4) existing or early relationships with exporting companies to gain access to proprietary genetic material, production advice and connections with buyers, (5) the fact that the harvest season of blueberries falls outside the harvest season of other valuable export fruits like citrus, apples and pears which allows farmers to diversify their operation and income, (6) employment opportunities in a mixed operation that allows farmers to keep their best seasonal staff employed throughout the year, and (7) the low risk of theft associated with blueberries due to their delicate harvesting method. Concerns were raised about the industry’s vulnerability to external shocks, but recently observed socio-political and environmental shocks appeared to have had limited impacts to date. National and global lockdown restrictions as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic (2020 – 2021) had minor impacts on farm operations because agricultural production was considered to be an essential service under lockdown regulations.


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