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ARISTON Holdings Limited, a horticultural produce operation, has poured fresh funding into developing a technology-driven business and skirt a long-running labour crisis in its estates, according to a report released yesterday.

The Zimbabwe Stock Exchange-listed giant has not been spared by biting farm labour shortages that have rocked the country in the past decade.

The crisis stemmed out of a big switch by farm workers to artisanal gold mining, where rewards are higher compared to working on the estates.

In a trading update for the first quarter ended December 31, 2021, Ariston said the automation drive was boosted last year by a deal that unlocked funding to bolster mechanisation.

Ariston pocketed US$2 million after selling 50% of its shareholding in Claremont Orchards Holdings late last year.

The transaction gave Ariston financial muscle to clear up space to develop new macadamia nut orchards in Chipinge and Chimanimani, while improving existing operations, according to a statement released last month.

In a review of its performance for the first quarter, company secretary Acquiline Chinamo said the windfall would be deployed into building bigger automation capacities to navigate the tricky labour crisis.

“During the first quarter, the group received proceeds from the disposal of 50% of its shareholding in Claremont Orchards Holdings (Private) Limited to Tuinbouw Zonder Grenzen BV.

“The proceeds from the transaction were used to develop new as well as improve established macadamia orchards, expand macadamia drying facilities and purchase equipment for automation of some processes to counteract the effects of labour shortage in Chipinge.

“The automation process implemented is expected to yield better production volumes as available labour is allocated to harvesting tea,” Chinamo said in a commentary.

“As a consequence of this transaction, the fruit category has been excluded from the production and sales statistics.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has had an impact on the group from the legislated lockdowns to encountering shortages in containers for export product and delays in shipping.

“The constraints being encountered by shipping lines such as shortage of shipping containers for export product as well as importation of materials required by the group.

“Locally the group has largely been affected by the pandemic as measures implemented to protect staff members have continued to be strictly monitored and adhered to,” she added.

Tuinbouw Zonder Grenzen is registered in the Netherlands.

In December, Ariston said Grenzen would pour fresh funding into the business.

“The transaction enabled the entry of a foreign shareholder who has undertaken to provide significant funding for expansion of Claremont orchards into high value fruit and flower offerings primarily for the export market. It is envisaged that the sum of the two investments will provide Ariston shareholders with greater value than current. Regulatory approval for the transaction has been received and the sale proceeds were received shortly after year-end,” Ariston noted.

The holding company reported a 19% decrease in revenue during the review period, driven mostly by the exclusion of its fruit business from the financial statements after the Grenzen transaction.

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