Pan African Resources (PAR) is building a R40million 15-hectare blueberry farm in Mpumalanga. This investment is expected to create jobs and contribute to long-term prosperity by empowering the local communities through skills development and training.

This first phase of the blueberry farm – the size equivalent to 15 rugby fields – has already created some 80 employment opportunities, and once operational will offer over 20 permanent and up to 375 seasonal jobs for berry picking from June to October each year.

The mining company has further announced that it will make an additional 50-hectares of land available for the planned second and third phases of the blueberry farm, which will provide up to 800 employment opportunities in the surrounding communities where most of those not employed by the mine have depended on social grants for survival.

“We are acutely aware that a mine cannot employ everyone in its surrounding communities and wanted to create a parallel economy that not only provides additional employment, but that builds sustainable economic opportunities for the town long after the life of the mine has passed,” said Cobus Loots, CEO at Pan African Resources.

“The mine has surplus land and water that presented a wonderful agriculture opportunity, and we engaged with farming specialists to identify a high yield export crop that is in high demand, and that will thrive in the local climate and environment,” Loots added.

Great expectations

After working with a best-of-breed partner for setting the farm up, PAR expects the first harvest of between 80 000 and 100 000 tons of blueberries to be ready for export to Europe, the Middle East and the Far East by mid-2022, with harvests growing even more as the plants mature.

Once the third phase of the farm has been established and the communities have been upskilled in the various roles that will ensure its long-term sustainability and profitability, PAR ultimately aims to transfer the project to the community, ensuring that the area’s economy can continue growing and thriving.  

“At this early stage of the project we have already begun to see the benefits in the wellbeing of the communities around the farm. The continued prosperity of the farming project is likely to further revitalise the community through improved opportunities for local retailers and other businesses, as well as possibly leading to other growth opportunities in the area, such as packaging and logistics facilities,” Loots said.

The blueberry farm project is an additional ‘beyond compliance’ initiative put in place by PAR’s Barberton Mines, which has consistently exceeded its social and labour plan commitments in terms of the socio-economic development projects required by the Department of Mineral Resources and Energy, as part of maintaining its mining rights obligations and social licence to operate.

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