On the 9th of June, Tiger Brands gave personnel producers and clients notice of a 60-day consultation period with the intention of closing down their canning factory in Ashton in the Western Cape.
Few people realise the real impact that this decision would have on the community, producers, the industry and agro-processing in the Western Cape. This is a huge concern for Agri SA. The Langeberg and Ashton factory is the biggest in South Africa and one of only two fruit canning factories.
The producers have made urgent requests to the Western Cape and National Governments to intervene in this matter. Given the essential contribution of this facility to the national and provincial economies, government needs to provide assistance by partnering with the parties to facilitate investment in the facility.
Tiger Brands initially decided to divest from this factory two years ago. At that point, a consortium of 160 producers began negotiations with Tiger Brands to acquire the factory, but the consortium will require a further R200 – 300 million to close the deal.
With the latest announcement from Tiger Brands, these producers have been placed in a nearly impossible situation – they must secure the necessary funds in less than 60 days. Without support from government and cooperation from Tiger Brands, the producers’ initiative will fail, and the fallout will be catastrophic.
The factory’s main sources are Cling Peaches, Bulida Apricots and Bon Chretien pears from 2 250 ha of canning fruit orchards. These orchards have been planted specifically for canning in the Klein-Karoo, Ashton, Robertson, Bonnievale, Breërivier, Wolseley en Ceres areas.
Were the factory to close, approximately 300 farmers would have no alternative market for these fruits as the other fruit canning factory in South Africa, owned by the Rhodes Food Group, is already running at full capacity. These farmers would have to destroy the orchards.
The impact of the announcement is already being felt as labour brokers report that their teams are sitting at home as producers stopped pruning after the Tiger announcement. In media statements Tiger Brands indicated that 250 permanent jobs and 4 300 seasonal jobs are affected at the peak of the season.
The factory is the life support of the Ashton community and without it the community faces socio-economic disaster. The Langeberg and Ashton factory is also the biggest single source of income for the Langeberg Municipality.