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Supporting clients 2 October 2020

Agric shines bright amid COVID-19

The crisis has shown that agriculture remains an important sector

By Piet Smit, CEO of Komati Group Holdings 

Komati Fruit Group produces and exports citrus and subtropical fruits, with operations in  Limpopo and Mpumalanga. We were founded in 1954 and have expanded over the years. Our main focus is exports, but our local market programme accounts for 7-10% of our total production. 

As an essential services provider, we were very blessed to be able to continue operating when the lockdown was implemented.

Fortunately, there was no major impact on our operations, but our main concern was the wellbeing of our own people.  We employ about 3,500 temporary workers for harvesting and packing. Another concern was around the supply chain – road transport, ports and shipping. There were a few hiccups in the first few weeks, but  government and industry organisations managed to make alternative plans. Ultimately, we  exported the entire crop. 

In terms of our staff, we were proactive and started early with an awareness programme at the end of January. Through our training officers, we informed our staff about the risks of the virus, how it’s spread, and so on. This meant that people were in COVID-19 mode early on, and were well prepared by the time the lockdown was implemented.  

People who didn’t need to be at the office were sent home, and those who were employed for harvesting and packaging worked under strict precautionary measures. We required that workers wear masks and use sanitisers, and had their temperatures monitored. To avoid the risk of infection when using public transport, we also arranged and paid for additional transport to get staff to and from work.  The result of these efforts is that we’ve had no identified COVID-19 cases in our labour force, although two senior managers were infected. 

Vitamin C

We also decided to distribute Vitamin C to local communities. We donated grapefruits and oranges,  and ensured food security during the pandemic.

Our citrus business didn’t need any special assistance from the government, but our community businesses – we are majority owners of two secondary schools – had no cash flow under lockdown. So we approached the banks for payment holidays, and  government for relief.  In the citrus business, we  approached Standard Bank to defer a big loan instalment to later in the season. 

Even though citrus is not a staple food, this crisis has shown that agriculture remains an important sector and citrus demand is still high. Citrus  is a good source of Vitamin C. COVID-19 has also shown that there’s always more that can be done when it comes to sanitisation and health and safety measures.   

Another thing that we’ve learned is that all businesses need to make provisions for difficult times, where possible. Building up cash reserves is very important.