A Million Boxes of Grapes and Still Counting

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By Chrispin Inambao WINDHOEK THE Namibia Grape Company (NGC) yesterday made history when it packed the one-millionth box of grapes for export to the UK and other European markets, putting it in an elite club of only three farms in the southern hemisphere to have done so. The ground-breaking news was announced in a phone-in interview with Deon Brand the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) at NGC whose innovative and specialised skills in grape farming have converted a loss-making entity into a profitable one. Brand, whose company this season intends to export over 1,2 million boxes of grapes each weighing 4,5 kg said the 360-hectare NGC grape farm at Aussenkehr becomes the third to have reached a million mark and still counting in the whole southern hemisphere whose grapes giants include Chile and Brazil. Other grape farmers who are known to have packed so much export-quality fruit from a single farm include Anton Viljoen who farms in the Upington area and the Western Cape and Piet Karsten who has stakes in the Kakamas area of Upington. “Today we have reached a million boxes of export-quality grapes,” said the CEO. So far, NGC whose labour force stands at 1 400 seasonal and permanent workers has sent out 284 truckloads each laden with 3 600 boxes of table grapes and despite reaching the million mark, the firm remains with another 306 000 cartons or 85 truckloads. Before the millionth mark was attained, the number of boxes packed since harvesting started in earnest several weeks ago stood at 960 000 boxes before the shift started. Last season, NGC packed 945 000 boxes and previously it was a mere 644 000 units. NGC this year expects to exceed its initial estimates because of a bumper harvest that came about as a result of sound management and good climatic conditions. Apart from supermarkets in the UK and Europe, other markets are in the Middle East and Far East. “In the past, people couldn’t believe we could pack a million cartons. Last year, we packed 945 000 cartons, the bulk of which we exported,” says Brand. Though the bulk of the produce is being sent to far-flung markets, NGC is also selling a certain percentage to large retailers such as Fruit and Veg City, Pick ‘n Pay and Spar in Windhoek, Cape Town and Durban.