Cape Town – Not long ago, the African Olive Trading mussel farm in Saldanha Bay in the Western Cape struggled to compete with big players.
It could only deploy a handful of rafts to farm mussels in a five-hectare sea space, and was struggling to access bigger markets to sell its mussels.
But assistance from government, as part of Operation Phakisa: Oceans Economy, has seen the mussel farm break out of its shell to enter the agro-processing space and is now supplying mussels to a wholesaler.
On Friday, African Olive Trading, through its partner company, Gallo (Pty) Ltd, opened a new mussel processing plant in Velddrif, a small fishing coastal town which is 90 minutes away from Cape Town.
Nolan Adams, the General Manager of African Olive Trading and chairperson of the Gallo Group, said Operation Phakisa was the unlocking agent that made them the biggest 100% black owned mussel farm in the country.
We sat with a scenario where we had five or six rafts. The bigger [companies] that had factories didn’t want to buy our mussels, Adams said.
Despite all their hard work and their will to farm, they could not compete. Even though they had an existing contract with another processing plant at the time, they sometimes found themselves with tonnes of mussels that no one was willing to buy.
So we had to create this. That is where the idea came from. We were sitting with the mussels, we supplied the fresh market but the fresh market does not take that much of mussels. They had to be processed, Adams said.
Through the help of Operation Phakisa, African Olive Trading was allocated an additional five hectares of sea space in Saldanha’s inner bay by the Transnet National Ports Authority. African Olive Trading now holds a 15-year lease on a 30-hectare sea space.
When we received the (additional) 25 hectares we were in the big league. We could take the next step, we could dream big.
At this point, African Olive Trading’s holding company established an entity, Gallo (Pty) ltd, through which a mussel processing factory was built.
This created a value chain, and instead of begging other processing plants to buy their mussels, African Olive Trading now sells its mussels to Gallo for processing and marketing.
Teaching the nation to fish
The farm is one of the 36 registered Operation Phakisa: Oceans Economy aquaculture projects, led by the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries.
African Olive Trading employs eight workers and the Gallo Group processing facility employs a total of 55 employees in Velddrif.
Currently, the farm has 11 mussel rafts and when they are operating at full capacity, they have the capacity to farm between 400 and 500 tonnes of mussels per annum.
Adams said Operation Phakisa has helped the farm to receive government grants in the form of the Comprehensive Agricultural Support Programme in order to build more rafts on the farm.
He said going forward, the goal is to add 19 more rafts and to purchase a boat by 2019.
Once they have 30 rafts, the farm will have a projected produce of over 1 400 000 kg, or 1 400 tonnes, of mussels per annum.
The South African market consumes about 3 000 tonnes of mussel a year. If African Olive Trading farms 1 500 tonnes of mussels per annum, whenever you eat a mussel again, from every two mussels that you eat, one [will] come from us, Adams said.
To motivate their employees, African Olive Trading provides a commission based remuneration, where 22% of the monthly turnover is paid as a salary to the workers in that specific month. This ensures that the entire team is working and benefits adequately.
Adams said the company offers sustainable jobs.
Farren Marcus, 21, one of the employees at the processing plant, said working at the plant has changed her life and financial outlook.
Before she joined Gallo, she used to be a casual staffer for a year and a half at another mussel processing factory. The permanent job has given her stability and she is now able to save so that she can pursue a higher education course next year.
This job has made a big difference because I needed the money. I am going start studying next year, she said.
Operation Phakisa is a cross-sector programme where various stakeholders work together to implement initiatives and concrete actions to address constraints to delivery.
The initiative was designed to fast track the implementation of solutions on critical development issues. This is a unique initiative to address issues highlighted in the National Development Plan (NDP) 2030 such as poverty, unemployment and inequality.
Operation Phakisa (a Sesotho word which means ‘hurry up) focuses on a number of sectors, including health and the oceans economy.
The oceans have the potential to contribute up to R177 billion to the gross domestic product (GDP) and create just over one million jobs by 2033.
Source: South African Government News Agency