Sustainability in the South African Wine Industry: Status, Opportunities and Challenges

Reena Das Nair, Shingie Chisoro, Stefano Ponte

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Abstract

South Africa has been a pioneer in developing a variety of sustainability programmes and initiatives from farm to bottle, placing it at the forefront of sustainability in the global wine industry. In addition to global sustainability standards, such as Fairtrade and organics, and standards applied by retailers in the Global North, domestic sustainability initiatives and regulations have also been developed since the late 1990s. The existence of sustainability initiatives however does not automatically entail that they are easing the local environmental impacts of viticulture and winemaking, that working conditions are necessarily improving, or that there has been more inclusive participation and ownership by historically disadvantaged persons (HDPs). In this working paper, we unpack whether, how and to what extent different demands and initiatives on sustainability are reshaping the functioning of the wine industry in South Africa and with what benefits for whom. We examine the various sustainability programmes and initiatives in South African wine and assess the implications for costs, investments and profitability of actors in the value chain. Furthermore, to provide a sense of how South Africa fares in the international arena, we also undertake a comparison with sustainability initiatives in the Italian wine industry. We frame sustainability initiatives in broad terms, covering environmental, social and economic sustainability. The growing effects of climate change globally demand that grape growers adapt from an environmental perspective. The pressure for social sustainability emanates from the highly skewed patterns of ownership by HDPs, legacies of racialised inequalities, and a tainted history of poor worker conditions on farms and cellars. We also cover economic sustainability, as it both affects and is affected by environmental and social sustainability initiatives and is critical for the future of commercial production. The research results presented here are part of a larger project funded by the Danish Independent Research Fund Denmark (Project #0133-00046B) on ‘Power and inequality in global production systems’ (PIPS) that also covers industrial fisheries in South Africa and the salmon and wine industries in Chile (with Stefano Ponte as the PI). This paper is focused on presenting the main empirical findings of this part of the project and is targeted at a broad audience. It is built on feedback we received on an earlier version that was discussed with South African industry actors at a webinar on 28 June 2023. More analytical and theoretical publications will follow in selected academic journals.
Original languageEnglish
Place of PublicationFrederiksberg
PublisherCentre for Business and Development Studies
Number of pages88
ISBN (Electronic)9788797317082
Publication statusPublished - Sept 2023
SeriesCBDS Working Paper
Number2023/3
SeriesCCRED Working Paper

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