At dawn, when a blanket of mist hangs above the Kavango and nearby villages, the Mashare berry picker’s day begins. She puts on protective, comfortable clothing and hitch hikes or walks to the farm. On a clearing around the fertigation station, office and rest area, she joins her co-workers in the hundreds, forming a big circle. Before the berries can be picked, or any operations begun, a scripture and prayer is shared between everybody at Mashare.

She clock’s in, receiving a bib with a belt, two white 0.5 litre tubs, and a clocking card. After washing their hands, the group of women set out under the shade nets, between the berries, like red polka-dots between parallel lines of green. In groups of two, Mashare berry pickers tackle a single ridge from both sides. Her supervisor is nearby, should she be unsure if the fruit is ripe or not. With great care and attention, she turns each berry around to view the stem. If this area of the fruit around the stem is completely dark, the blueberry is ready to be plucked softly and placed in one of the containers hanging from her waist. Good berries go in one tub, great berries go in the other.

It takes about a whole ridge of harvested berries to fill both tubs. The Mashare berry picker then walks a short distance to the weighing station, this is where her clocking card is used. With a sophisticated scanning, weighing, labelling and information capturing system, the picker’s card later determines the total weight of berries she gathered. In a single day, these harvesters can pick around 60 kilograms of blueberries each, adding up to about 3 tonnes a day in total.

As the picking progresses, the weighing station moves along with the ladies. A tractor and trailer soon arrives, bringing more crates, and taking the filled ones to the packing house in an already cool, insulated trailer box. Time is of the essence to ensure the berries remain plump and are processed shortly after picking.

The Mashare picker spends her day alongside fellow community members, sharing chit-chat between the leaves, blossoms and blueberries. Many of them hail from different tribes, creeds and backgrounds, yet somehow, mutual respect is tangible in the warm Kavango air.

Charene Labuschagne