SOUTH AFRICAN ALMONDS – OUR NEW LOCAL HERO
This month, ZZ2 subsidiary Cape Almonds (Pty) Ltd, launches 50 tonnes of locally grown almonds through South Africa’s national fresh produce markets under the Al Monde brand name. Fresher, crunchier, tastier, and more affordable than their imported counterparts, Al Monde is giving consumers the chance to buy this locally grown, healthy super food for less. Packed with goodness, Al Monde almonds are also packed in unique boxes (sizes 250g, 500g, and 1kg packs) as well as in recycled plastic bags (100g and 250g) which stand proud proclaiming their wholesome contents. Not only will consumers not miss these attractive packs, but they will also be confident in their purchase, knowing that the produce is locally grown and has incurred a considerably reduced carbon footprint in its delivery.
More good news comes because Cape Almonds (Pty) Ltd has formed licensed agreements with more than 50 Western Cape farmers to grow and produce the almonds. In turn, this helps create employment, upskill the farmers in making a locally grown crop commercially viable, and helps create demand for more in the future. The Al Monde almonds are raw (not roasted, salted, or treated in any way) and are available in the new unique packs at the National Fresh Produce Markets in Johannesburg, Pretoria, Durban, and Cape Town from 27 September.
Almonds need a Mediterranean-type climate to flourish, and the Western Cape, where most of the farmers are, matches this perfectly. The Al Monde growers are mostly farming the Independence almond varietal, which is self-pollinating.
Most commercial almond cultivars rely upon natural pollinators, by bees, to ensure successful cross-pollination and fertilization. The Independence cultivar, however, is the first self-compatible and self-fertile almond cultivar developed by the Californian breeder, Zaiger’s Inc. Genetics. In 2016, ZZ2 subsidiary, Cape Almonds (Pty) Ltd was granted the exclusive master-licence to cultivate ‘Independence Almonds’ in Southern Africa from Zaiger’s Inc. Genetics and Zaiger SA. Since then, Cape Almonds (Pty) Ltd, in partnership with around 50 sub-licensee growers, has planted approximately 700 ha of ‘Independence’ almond trees throughout the Western Cape Province.
Dan Coetzee, CEO of Cape Almonds says that almond farming is more complex than might be appreciated. “Soil preparation is critical and the ZZ2 and Cape Almond agronomists are working hard to give the growers the intelligence and help they need to produce the most abundant and healthy harvest. Our production guide is a fully comprehensive ‘manual’ giving the producers everything they need to know – from the arduous soil preparation process, which includes analyses and consultation from soil scientists, through to soil mapping and modification, irrigation and draining, timing, grafting, harvesting, and post-harvest handling. It is an exceptionally technical and involved process and budding almond producers need to perfect the initial planting and soil preparation to ensure a healthy yield every year.”
Cape Almonds’ commitment to developing the local industry is long term, and Dan Coetzee is also head of marketing of the newly formed South African Almond Association. “Farmers and consumers alike in this country need to know that the industry is committed to long-term sustainability. The Almond Association will not only be a hub of information but also a body of mutually interested peoples who will collectively ensure that the local industry thrives over time. Together with ZZ2, we began researching and creating the Al Monde product around four years ago because we believe the future is in unlocking the natural goodness available right here in South Africa and to delivering an excellent natural product to local people.”
Dan Coetzee says the launch of local almonds in South Africa comes at a critical time. “Due to the oversupply of Almonds in the US, South Africa is getting flooded with cheap poor-quality stock. As an association, our main aim is to protect producers and the almond market as a whole and to ensure South Africans consumers get better quality local almonds at competitive prices.”
“People are becoming increasingly aware of the need to support local farmers and they also want to know where their food comes from. So, knowing they are buying a product that is fresh – and not 6-12 months old as it is when it arrives from California – will be a major factor in their purchasing decision. Until now, very few almonds sold in South Africa are grown locally. The local product will therefore be fresher with a much lower carbon footprint and will be supporting local.
There is good news in the offing for SMEs and the SA economy too. As the local almond industry matures, it will help support and create new industries from the bi-products of raw almonds which are not fit for packaging – those that are chipped or broken in half will be sold to third parties. In time, this will develop into a burgeoning bi-product industry producing almond flour and almond milk.
Almond, genetically, is like other Prunus species such as peach and apricot, having a low chill requirement accompanied with early flowering and leafing. These characteristics, in combination with the ability to develop deep and extensive root systems when combined with the right rootstock, gives almond a high tolerance for summer heat and drought, making it ideally suited for production in Mediterranean-type climatic regions such as the Western Cape. A later flowering period in September helps to avoid late winter frost, while early harvesting in February and March ensures early market access and avoids early winter rains.
Despite investigations into the suitability of the Western Cape for almond production dating back to 1980, failure to establish an almond industry has led to local demand substantially outweighing the supply, making South Africa a net importer of almond currently.