14 May Sewing a Better Future | OZblu®’s Community Efforts to Conquer COVID-19
South Africa, May 2020 | Following the shift to Level 4 Lockdown amidst the coronavirus spread, the South African government introduced new regulation regarding the use of fabric masks as a preventative measure against the spread of the COVID-19 virus. Local companies have been instructed to protect their staff by providing them with this Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). For the agricultural sector, this means providing masks for the numerous bodies on site who are integral to the harvesting process and supply chain.
International blueberry producer and exporter United Exports is coincidentally a few steps ahead of the legislation, having launched a sewing initiative – named the “United Exports Sewing Project” – in September of 2019. Initially producing reusable hair nets and bibs for their blueberry pickers, the focus shifted to reusable masks at the onset of the COVID-19 spread. The initiative is coordinated and maintained by the OZblu® Academy, an internal schooling programme created by United Exports that drives education and upliftment in communities local to their blueberry developments.
Image: Before the COVID-19 virus, the sewing project focused mainly on producing bibs for OZblu’s blueberry pickers, as well as reusable buffs to replace the single-use hairnets currently in use.
Indigo Berries, a United Exports-operated blueberry farm growing the world renowned OZblu® genetics, is the first site for the project with one seasonal worker and seven unemployed farm resident ladies on their sewing team. Beyond the immediate need for masks, this initiative has simultaneously upskilled these eight individuals and enabled them to earn an income.
Image: A seamstress holds up a handful of her freshly sewn masks for use on the local OZblu farms.
The project will be replicated on several of United Exports’ other local farms, namely Wolseley Berries, Hex Berries, Lepalala Berries and Waterberg Berries. The masks created on these sites will then be distributed amongst the remaining OZblu® farms for staff use. In order to maintain strict hygiene practices the masks will remain on site, so they can be washed and dried after each day’s usage and handed out to staff the next day.
Almost 3000 masks have been produced as well as over 2800 hair buffs, which can be used as either masks or hair covers. These buffs are to replace the hair nets currently in use which are plastic and non-recyclable, helping reduce OZblu®’s landfill waste footprint.
Overall, the United Exports Sewing Project is a feel-good story in a troubling time. It has been effective in uplifting members of an impoverished community, reducing single-use waste and – above all else – it is serving to protect the hundreds of workers executing an essential service in the current COVID-19 climate.