Imported frozen french fries are threatening the livelihood of more than 11 000 workers in the potato processing industry, says producers association Potatoes SA (PSA).
Its marketing manager, Etienne Booyens, said the association had asked Minister of Agriculture Tina Joemat-Pettersson and Minister of Trade and Industry Rob Davies to act as the sharp increase in imports of frozen french fries from Europe would leave the potato processing industry in crisis.
“With every roleplayer in the potato value chain adversely affected, PSA is appealing to the government for urgent intervention in creating a sustainable environment for the potato processing industry.”
Booyens said the volume of frozen french fry imports had surged from 15 460 tons in 2009 to 46 903 tons in 2010 and then levelled at 30 054 tons last year.
The MEC for Agriculture, Gerrit van Rensburg, said SA, and the Western Cape in particular, had a well-developed and established potato industry, with producers and production facilities concentrated in the Sandveld area on the West Coast.
He said the provincial department supported the Sandveld industry through a project that used satellite technology to enable potato farmers to optimise their irrigation scheduling as better water management significantly reduced input costs and contributed to nature conservation.
“We are, however, competing with the European industry, which is exponentially larger than ours in terms of production and processing. In the EU it’s a subsidised industry.
“This, together with the fact that Europe has experienced exceptionally large harvests over the past few years, (means) they can now deliver processed potato products cheaply to South Africa.”
Van Rensburg said agricultural exports were a central pillar of the Western Cape economy and for every 5 percent increase in exports, 23 000 jobs were created.
“We should aim to increase exports, not imports. By buying local chips you are saving livelihoods in our rural areas.”
Booyens said that of the 650 commercial potato growers in SA, more than 100 produced potatoes under contract for the processing industry.
“Annual production is estimated at around 120 000 tons. However, the market size is close to 150 000 tons. The 2010 level of french fry imports equates to 82 000 tons of locally grown potatoes.”
It was estimated that 435 000 tons of locally grown potatoes were used for processed products, with 58 percent being used for french fries.
The use of locally grown potatoes for processed potato products is estimated at 435 000 tons, of which 58 percent is used for french fries.
“With a labour multiplier of close to 1.2 workers a hectare and over 9 500ha planted for the processing industry, we are looking at more than 11 400 workers being affected. The three largest producers of frozen french fries jointly employ about 1 060 workers in factories alone.
“It’s of paramount importance that the internal as well as external jobs created by the industry are also taken into serious consideration.”
Van Rensburg urged consumers to lobby against the importing of frozen french fries.
Some local eateries say they buy only locally produced potato chips.
Fernando Teixeira, director of Texies Holdings, said Texies Seafoods used “about 40 000 pockets of fresh potatoes annually”.
Nana Lloyd, marketing executive of Steers, said the hamburger franchise used hand-cut potatoes for its chips. “We use only three potato varieties, all grown in SA.”