I had long dreamed of visiting southern Africa and the opportunity came to "seize the moment" and travel half-way around the world to observe another country's horticultural production. I was game to go and full of enthusiasm to learn about mango production in this part of the world. Thanks to our relationship with Westfalia and their kind invite I was now going to see their operations.
My flight started from Miami to Johannesburg, stopping in Madrid for transit. In Madrid I was stuck for 2 days because the airport was closed for the bad weather. Global warming is making it impossible to pass through Europe without getting snowed in. It took me almost 4 days to get to my final destination. I arrived in Johannesburg at 8:00 AM.
My first assignment was the genetic material declaration and the inspection for post-entry quarantine. It was quite simple. I was a little concerned about it, because of all of the restrictions South African has in terms of the importation of plants. Yet, my worries were for naught as I had all the paperwork required.
Dr. Johan De Graaf, a researcher of Wesfalia was waiting for me. The 1st plan was to fly to Pietersburg, but obviously I lost my flight. So they were very kind and decided to pick me up and make the next trip by land. It was better for me with another opportunity to see more of this country. From Johanesburg to the Ramalea farm took us about 4 hours.
We stopped in the middle of the road to deliver the budwood. A man was waiting in the road with a truck full of avocados ready to graft. He was to receive me and collect the budwood that I was carrying; the customs officials will be present to inspect the grafting and the quarantine process. I was happy to see the new avocados make the trip from South Florida and know they can be part of one of Wetfalia’s research projects.
I enjoyed the drive, discussing with Johan about avocado and mango industry in South Africa. It was a warm, partly cloudy afternoon. It was not as hot as I expected. The beautiful topography got my attention. I expected to see wild animals up every tree.
I arrived at the Westfalia Estate situated in the foothills near Zaneen. My friend Zelda Van Royer, a Researcher of Westfalia was waiting for us. Stefan Köhne, the Director of MTS welcomed me and offered to have lunch in the Ramalea guest house. Avocado guacamole, dry mangos, dry meat they call it “Biltong”, a South African delicacy, bread and juices was served - an hour later Danella Mostert joined us for dinner. Being quite tired I was then to bed.
Breakfast in the Ramalea guesthouse consisted as usual of bread, butter and jam with yogurt and fruit juices. Then would follow the eggs and fresh mangos. I woke up really early in the morning with the song of the birds. In this time of the year it is light around 5:00 am. I decided to take a walk in the garden and enjoy the view. Woodpeckers visiting the Albizias and Acacias, and many beautiful African orioles complimented the panorama. This one had red eyes and bright yellow wings with black stripes and song a note something like “fee-you-fee-you”.
I noticed they have also planted a diverse collection of Encephalartos sp., Aloe sp, Albizia sp. and many Acacia sp. All present had a surprising respect for these cycads. I remember my conversation with Johan yesterday when he mentioned the role of the South African cycads in plant conservation and tourism. Cycads are protected in SA and whoever owns them requires a permit.
Driving though we started seeing mangos for sale along the road, and we purchased ‘Sabre’ mangos. This is a warmer and drier location - much better for mango.
Koos Janse Van Rensburg the manager of the farm was waiting for us with mangos. We tried the 'Honey Gold', 'Shelly' and 'Manzanillo' and shared with more of our collegues and discuss about their quality and flavor.
We visited the packing house where Westfalia prepared for the largest local market of South African mangos. This time they were packing ‘Tommy Atkins’. It also supplies directly to retailers and other local South African markets. In the mangos the fruit harvested go to the packing houses installed with mechanical packing line receiving chemical bath and hot water treatment. Then they are dried, waxed, and packed.
Then we visit the mango orchard. I saw ‘Keitt’ fruiting exceptionally well and with good color, but with sunburn problems. Sunburn was a significant problem. We continued visiting mango orchards, with an extended tour and discussion of the Constantia farm, with a mix of the same cultivars and some additional ‘Kent’. The management on this farm was impressive, with close attention to detail of pruning and care. The trees were quite dwarf and highly productive. They mentioned the rootstock they used as ‘Sabre’.
I went to see the picking, this time they where picking ‘Tommy Atkins’. Many hard workers with colorful dresses caught my attention. They belong to the Shangaan tribe. The Shangaan are the oldest inhabitants of Southern Africa, where they have lived for at least 20,000 years. This is very warm and happy people, I really enjoyed taking pictures of them.
Westfalia is trying to extend the season with varieties and we visited one of the research projects. Workers were picking and keeping records on the production of the trees, labeling and packing for post harvest evaluation. ‘Princes’, a hybrid between ‘Keitt’ and ‘Haden’ is an interesting red mango. It is late season, beautiful red color, and productive. Another cultivar they are evaluating is ‘Calypso’ from Australia, actually protected and patented. They were beautiful trees with an impressive production. The trees are small sized and grafted on ‘Sabre’ as well.
‘Shelly’ from Israel has a beautiful color and heavy crop in these trees - a little insipid for my taste but with a beautiful appearance. They also are evaluating ‘Nam Doc Mai’ even though South Africa is not much interested in yellow mangos. We discussed with Therese some of their preliminary conclusions about this cultivars having late lunch in a lovely local place where they made South African crafts. The owner made a tour and explained her social job for the past 23 years. Beautiful and colorful embroidering was made by local community supporting the artistic talent of children, woman and men.
That evening I had dinner with Dr. Johan de Graaf, who oversees all of the production on the farms. This was a bit awkward at first, partially due to my jet-lag and their quiet nature, but as the evening went on we had a spirited conversation about orchard practices around the globe and the costs of mango growing.
I was fatigued from travel, but enjoyed a chance for a good meal and a chance to better understand the financial makeup of the Hans Merensky Foundation and to interject information about tropical fruit trends throughout the Americas. Being quite tired I was then to bed.
It is early morning and I prepare for taking pictures of the mangos I collected at the Constancia Farm. The Ramaela house is a lovely place and my room connects with a long balcony with a beautiful view. I notice a rock in front of my window - I find that it is really similar in shape to Africa. I am intrigued… could this be the rock that the Senior Curator (Dr. Campbell) so often told stories? I will ask someone later if I was right.
Therese came to pick me up to visit the postharvest laboratory where her technician is evaluating the mangos. Internal color, size, brix, weight, size, shape, texture of fruit and edible percentage are some of the characteristics they evaluated. We discuss some of the problems of the varieties.
On the way to the Goedgelgen farm we stopped in town to check the local market. I was surprised by the prices of the fresh mangos (US$ 3.00/ 6 mangos).
Following, we visited a large avocado orchard at the Goedgelgen farm situated in the Mooketsi Valley, north-west of Modjajiskloof in a much drier and warmer climate than they can produce early season avocados and late season mangos.
Approximately 12.400 hectares are currently devoted to avocado production in South Africa. Export production is mainly to Europe with the remainder being consumed by the domestic markets. The majority of South African avocado production is confined to the north-eastern part of the country.
Mr. Jan Van Eyk, manager of the farm, gave a the tour of the property. We crossed the avocado orchard containing ‘Haas’ and ‘Fuerte’. 12% of the total avocado production is used for processed avocados for oil and guacamole uses.
The two avocados were highly productive, without any evidence of root rot. ‘Dusa™’ is their main rootstock which is protected by Plant Breeder's Rights. The major attributes of using this rootstock are to provide high yields and resistance to Phytophthora cinnamomi, which causes the serious root rot disease in avocado trees. Also using this rootstock gives to the avocado crops more uniformity.
The export avocado season is between March and October. In this time of the year the tress are already full with small avocados. In South Africa, production areas are mostly in summer-rainfall regions. Most producers irrigate their orchards, but there are also a number of ‘dry-land’ (non-irrigated) orchards. Soils typically range from sandy (low nutrient levels) to high clay and organically rich. Soil nutrient levels are monitored to determine fertilizer regimes. Accreditation of organic orchards is generally carried out by international certification agencies such as Ecocert and BCS.
Moving forward to see the mango orchard we discussed about the weakening mango market. There were also extensive orchards of mango. We visited the ‘Keitt’ orchards spaced 6 x 1.5 meter. The trees were less than 13 years and still the trees are compact and small. I asked Jan how he can maintain these trees that size and how often he has to prune them. He said “I don’t prune these trees I just let them be”.
He only removes the stems after harvest, and those trees mostly don’t re-flush. In the best of the cases they flush just once a year. Climate, rootstock and environment combine to give this effect. They use ‘Sabre’ as a rootstock. Productivity in ‘Keitt’ on this property is normally 40 T/ha and has a record for this year of 75 T/ha. Unbelievable!
‘Heidi’ in the other hand produces a maximum of 16 T/ha which is not bad. All trees in general have serious malformation problems. This is a fungal disease caused by a Fusarium fungus, and they are controlling it well by pruning and removing the infected panicles. This and most of the orchards that I saw were intended for the local market. They also have ‘Princes’ and 'Calipso' in this farm.
They are close to the protected wild areas and have problems with the baboons stealing fruit. They chase them away by employing people with sling-shots. And yes, baboons prefer ‘Heidi’.
Coming back to the Ramalea house we stopped to have lunch close to some native dwellings and to discuss business.
I had a meeting with Dr. Stefan Köhne to discuss details about our interchange of the genetic material, and the mango festival.
Alan Snyman, Marketing Manager of Westfalia, and Luis Armando Llanos de Procesos Agrindustriales SAC of Peru joined us and we had an interesting discussion about the future of the mango industry. Luis came to Wesfalia to start a partnership with the company in the dry mango industry. I was so happy to learn that we are coming together for solutions to the low profits of the mango industry. Colombia is the other partner in this process to cover the demand of dry mangos for the months September through December.
I remain intrigued by the rock upon my return to Ramalea, so I ask Stefan about it. More specific, I ask if it was delivered to this place to represent Africa. He simply laughed, amused by another Fairchild plant explorer with the ability to see “Africa in the Rock”. I of course had a little help offered by those that came before, but this stone in the shape of Africa is symbolic of the Westfalia company and their commitment to the people of Africa.
|Alan Snyman, Stefan Kohne, Noris Ledesma and Zelda Van Royer posing near
the "Rock of Africa".
I finished my day with a lovely dinner with my Westfalia friends.
At 5 AM in the morning Zelda picked me up to go to The Agricultural Research Council (ARC), which is responsible for research on all aspects of the cultivation of tropical and subtropical crops in South Africa. They work on citrus, pineapple, banana, avocado, mango, guava, litchi, papaya, granadilla, coffee and spices, as well as pecan and macadamia.
We decided to stop by the ‘Princes’ farm to have the opportunity to see the original trees. ‘Princes’ is a mango selected and released by mango grower Richard Elphick and developed in Malelane, Mpumulanga. At the moment Westfalia is testing it as an alternative for fresh mango export.
We continued our journey and were joined by Mr. Chris Human – Cultivar Development Division in Mangoes, and Mr Arthur Sippel - Program Manager: Plant Improvement, ARC-Institute for Tropical and Subtropical Crops. They were waiting for us close by the entrance of the National Park. We visited the original mango collection where the genetic resources that I saw in this short visit were clearly derived from Florida material. There were other introductions from other regions to be sure, but their genetic base was rather narrow.
Mr. Chris Human mentioned that their research activities involved cultivar development. In their mango research they have been working on a breeding program using natural crossings (open pollination) and artificial crossing (hand pollination and caging of topworked cultivars). Promising selections from this breeding program were established with ‘Sabre’ and ‘Joa’ rootstocks. They have released four selections from the breeding program.
Royalties and patents are the new vocabulary in the modern word, but with mangos the overwhelming contribution to the world-wide export industry belongs to Florida. We have been sharing our genetic material since the mango started as a commodity. I am not sure that protecting the mango genetic material is a good idea. Mango growers around the word are struggling to survive in business and now it is the moment to share. The mango economy is so fragile. I do not think there is sufficient margin to pay the new costs. Mango variety is not the only issue than will help resolve the problem. The main issue will be quality, new markets, new products processing and partnership.
A little concerned about this heavy topic, we arrived late afternoon to the Kruger National Park where the sound of the jungle reminded me of the beauty of my job - to have the opportunity to share experiences in movement of fruit agriculture, culture and genetic resources.
In my journey I wish to take you into to an ancient land where elephants, monkeys and leopards roam. This is a land of temples, jungles, deserts, beautiful mountains and banyan tree groves. I had asked Zelda to arrange for me to pass the weekend in the Kruger Park. After our visit to the ARC Research Station we decided to spend the rest of the weekend in the Kruger Park.
We stop by the road to buy some ‘Sabre’ mangos for our adventure with the elephants and leopards. We were able to see “the big fives” all of the large animals in Africa. This even included 12 black Rhino, a leopard, a thundering herd of elephants, Hipo, scores of Zebra and giraffes.
I must admit that I was not prepared for all that I would see. It was in a word - priceless. I could not resist taking pictures, hoping than the giraffes like mangos as we do.
We meet Elizabeth Mganence, the Chief’s wife of LeuA-lygedlane at the park when we were walking with a basket of ‘Sabre’ mangos to the restaurant. She approached us asking for the mangos, she said “Those mangos grow like a weed” I was surprised by for the comment and she said that our mangos produce so much fruit like weeds.
This small mango for the standard of South Africa has Indian roots, carrying a spicy and sweet flavor.
It is a good mango to be eaten out of hand, and can sometimes fetch a handsome price. It has been widely used as a rootstock for the grafting of imported mango varieties due to the tough nature and adaptability to local soils and weather conditions.
It is time to return to the mango word in Africa. Crossing the hills to get to the main valley I was able to appreciate how the South Africans live with mangos. People were selling mangos along the side of the road, small sustainable farms and villages where the mangos is part of their lives. ‘Sabre’ is the most common mango tree in this part of the country, where they grow corn and other seasonal vegetables.
We arrived just on time to Wesfalia to meet with Louis Vorster, COO of the company and his wife to discuss about the future of mangos in South Africa and the business model for Wesfalia.
In the early morning, Therese Bruwer picked me up to travel to Bavaria Farm located in Hoedspruit about hour and a half from the Ramalea house. Hoedspruit is a lovely city surrounded by majestic mountains and natural areas where giraffes, impalas, rhinos and zebras roam freely into farmland.
Our 1st visit was to meet Johann Du Preez, General Manager of the Bavaria Farm who gave me a good overview about the company and the partnership with Bavaria. The Bavaria farm has 750 Ha and 200 Ha in citrus. Mangos that grow on this property are about 5% for export and 95% for the local market.
Then we visited the fruit processing facility, where they make dry mangos. I found this product an excellent alternative for the mango industry. The nutritional and health benefits of dried mango make it suitable for maintaining optimum health and it can also be included in weight loss programs. It is a good source of fibre and roughage which can help to promote colon health. It is also highly regarded as a source of instant energy thanks to its high concentration of carbohydrates.
I noticed that most workers are women in the plant. These hard working women dried mangos, starting the process by selecting mangos from sound, choice grade, succulent, ripened fresh fruit. Mangos are skinned, cut and dried, optimally controlled in a hygienic environment to provide food safety. No sugar is added.
We discussed test marketing of products with the International Mango Festival and made some preliminary arrangements for this. We finished up the day with a look at the lychee variety collection.
That night I stayed in Estelle’s house, and she invited me to drive though the natural area to see the sunset. It was beautiful to see how close the wild African animals live with mangos. We had a lovely dinner with her husband and Luis.
In the morning Estelle Louw, Entomology Researcher, took me to see the insect-rearing facility. The economics of rearing this single predatory beetle seems a bit questionable, but they have continued the project for years – interesting. They are evaluating internal disorders and disease control.
Then we met with Marius Bouwman and Cobus Verster the nursery managers that visited the mango production at the farm. The main season for mango in South Africa is mid-December to mid-May. They were picking the last of the ‘Tommy Atkins’.
Orchards are irrigated primarily with drip irrigation through high-pressure pipelines. Fertilization is managed according to leaf and soil analyses taken before the harvest season in November.
The organic orchards are fertilized with compost made on site. All pest and disease control is managed according to either a certified organic program or an IPM program. Pruning is done according to protocols developed through research and experimentation. I noticed problems with malformation and sun burn. The main cultivars under cultivation are 'Tommy Atkins', 'Kent', 'Keitt', 'Sensation' and 'Heidi'.
We visited the nursery, where workers where preparing for propagation. They use ‘Sabre’ as a rootstock. They harvest them mature on the tree and ripen them before removing the seeds. Happy ladies dance and sing stepping on the mangos to remove the flesh. They dry them in a dark room, remove the husk and plant. ‘Sabre’ is polyembryonic which means they can propagate up to 10 trees from 1 seed. They divide the plants and keep 2 plants per bag. At one year old, the trees are grafted with a cleft graft. They have also trees for sale and distribute them all over the country.
We also visited the composting area, nothing is wasted in Wesfalia. Mangos are used to the maximum. The best mangos are for export and local market, the ones with imperfection are ripenedd for drying and even the pulp-covered seeds are squeezed for mango juice. There are always some overripe ones for the vervet monkeys and baboons. The sunburned mangos are used for the achar industry. At the end of the day nearly every mango has a use with a few left over for composting. This is a time consuming operation than necessitates good logistics and a lot of labor, but it is worth it.
Sarie Mommsen, community Development Officer showed me the social project, where through education and training they try to improve the quality of life of their workers. Many of the workers live at Wesfalia’s farms, but also others from the community are welcome to participate. They have lovely training facilities with a toy library where the children come to learn and play. We visited some of the Creche or day-care centers. Babies up to 3 years of age receive care and 2 meals a day. Also they have pre-school children up to 4 years old.
The mothers come and join them for projects like glass recycling, sewing and candle making. The project is becoming sustainable and has been already been replicated in other farms of Wesfalia.
Therese Bruwer joined us to show me the living variety collection. I notice their multiple topworks on the field trees are moving up in height over time. They turned their organic mango blocks into research projects. Plants have been converted in other cultivars already 2 times. The living collection is actually managed as an organic crop. They pick most of the fruit for achar, and just a few fruit are left for evaluation in the cultivars they are interested. The fruit were fruiting well and were covered in caps to protect them from sun burn.
Their mango research program involves tree performance as well as pre-and post harvest evaluation of fruit quality. Cold storage trials are conducted on all varieties and post cold storage fruit evaluations are carried out. Furthermore, they are testing mango selections for several companies, research institutes and private individuals for certain promising mango cultivars for certain promising mango cultivars.
We drove back to Ramalea in the afternoon, and that night we had dinner with Louis Vorster, Alan Snyman, Johan De Graaf, Luis from Peru and Danielle.
Therese picked me up in the morning to meet Wilma Stones, Horticultural and Technical Advisor of SAMGA (South African Mango Growers’ Association). SAMGA is a non-profit organization to help the growers, consolidate efforts at marketing and create awareness of the mango industry in South Africa.
We traveled by car to visit the mango growers and members of the Tropical and Subtropical Crops. The road passed down the rift valley with a commanding view along the way of the natural wonders of South Africa. I grew more and more attached to the natural beauty of this country. We stopped by the road to get some mangos for the trip. They had ‘Sabre’ and ‘Peach’. In most of the rural areas, the locals appreciate these mangos so much, and I absolutely enjoyed them.
We visited some of the local growers in this area. Jaco Fivaz believes in a high-density plantation, so they have ‘Tommy Atkins’, ‘Keitt’, ‘Sensaton’ and ‘Joa’ planted at 3.5 x 3 meters. The key for this practice is pruning. He tops the trees every year after harvest and tipping is his best recommendation. The trees are 19 years old and look good, especially ‘Sensation’. To increase and improve the quality of 'Sensation' he selectively removes fruit leaving just one fruit per panicle.
We visited his dry mango factory, where many workers were peeling, cutting and drying mangos for export market. There are 4 more mango drying factories in the area, their main problem is the high operation cost, especially gas and electricity to run the ovens and the intensive labor.
Jaco and the rest of the mango growers are looking for new alternatives in terms of cultivars. In South Africa of course they are looking for red mangos, early, productive, consistent, resistant to diseases and with excellent quality. We discussed some possibilities, but “cultivar” is just one piece of the puzzle. The crisis in the mango industry is more complex than just the choice of cultivar.
The economic model of mango has to change; mango cannot be a commodity. Mango is a very special fruit, delicate and precious. Quality is the best way to compete, and to be able to get a premium price. Growers must have to open their portfolio of products and target different markets. Mangos are about passion, and customers are willing to pay for it.
After lunch we visited Johan van Vuren, owner of Jonkmanspruit mangos. We met him at his packinghouse. Many workers were sourcing mangos for export, local mangos and for the local mango product industry (dry mango and juices). Then we visited his mango orchard. Festus, the manager of the farm believes in water stress to stimulate blooming. He has very rocky soils. I was impressed by how good the ‘Tommy Atkins’ and ‘Keitt’ do under these conditions, perfect color and good production. It is a reason why growers and the mango industry have selected Florida cultivars in general around the word.
I got my lesson about ‘Tommy Atkins’ where the South Africans believe in it so much. They are planting new Tommy’s while the rest of the word is changing for new alternatives. The South Africans are clearly tied to a market that wants a mild flavor.
Early morning Zelda took me to see the avocado orchards, as she said I could not leave Westfalia without visiting their avocado operation. Driving close from the Ramalea house she and I drove through the slopes and hills covered by native trees and waterfalls. This topography reminded me of my childhood. The morning was cool and misty, filled by the sound of the jungle and monkeys jumping trees. This is South Africa - the country of contrast.
Westfalia maintains and protects this natural area, boardering the avocado orchards. ‘Hass’ and ‘Fuerte’ are the main cultivars. The avocado production in Westfalia is an export-orientated industry, aimed primarily at the European market. They also produce for the local market. The majority of plantings since the early 1980's have been on Phytophthora-tolerant rootstocks. Some of the workers were injecting the old trees to control phytophthora. This is expensive treatment for the avocado grower that is why Westfalia develops the new resistant rootstocks.
They practice high density pruning to maintain tree size and prevent inter tree shading. They also practice spraying to control new growth. Pruning is by hand in the hills and they use mechanical pruning in the flatten areas.
Then we visited the avocado packinghouse. In this time of the year they do not have avocados, so they use their facilities for other crops. This time they were packing lychees for the local market. They have to keep their customers happy. Westfalia supplies to the supermarket fresh fruit all year around including avocados. At the moment they are importing avocados from Chile and Spain. There were some avocados from Spain ready to deliver for the local market until they have their own avocados.
We visited the nursery and the manager gave a tour to explain the propagation process at the nursery. The Westfalia Nursery is fully accredited and world renowned for the provision of good quality clonal root-stock avocado trees. All nurseries are certified; they use big nursery bags to raise seedlings. They have been propagating avocado trees since 1931. They produce about 25,000 trees a year.
The process starts by grafting the clone in a large tub, and then it is forced to root in a dark room. Then they are moved to the growth area to be grafted with the commercial cultivars.
The major attributes of this project are the avocado rootstock they use. They provide high yields and resistance to Phytophthora cinnamomi, which causes the serious root rot disease in avocado trees. Given the choice between variable avocado seedling root-stocks and uniform clonal root-stock, the latter are the foundation of a uniform orchard.
Westfalia Nursery produces 'Dusa™' (Merensky 2')*, and 'Duke 7'; protected by Plant Breeder's Rights. They are the major supplier of avocado trees to the agricultural sector, producing over 100,000 trees a year. They supply avocado trees for their own farms as well as other growers, both nationally and internationally.
In the afternoon Zelda took me to the Polokwane airport to connect with Johannesburg and return home. Much can be learned from an experience from the mango growers in South Africa.
I give a huge thank you to Westfalia for the opportunity to travel and visit this part of the mango world. I met friendly and giving people that I will never forget. I loved the beauty of this country where the mangos orhards contrasted so vividly with the wild. Thank you for the opportunity to learn from your experiences. I bring back new ideas to share with mango growers around the world. We do it for the love of mangos.