Southern Africa is expected to export a record 143.3-million cartons of citrus fruit to over 100 countries this year, Citrus Growers Association (CGA) CEO Justin Chadwick said in a statement on Tuesday.
This is a 13% increase compared with 2019, when 126.7-million cartons were exported, generating R20-billion in export revenue and creating 120 000 jobs.
The increase in this year’s export should translate into more job opportunities and foreign exchange revenue and would contribute towards national government’s goal of increased agricultural exports over the next few years, Chadwick posited.
He attributed this growth largely to new orchards coming into production and good rains across some regions.
Valencia oranges make up the biggest portion of the citrus export market at 35%, followed by navel oranges (19%), lemons (18%), soft citrus (16%) and grapefruit (12%).
The soft citrus and lemon categories are expected to show the highest growth this year.
Soft citrus is anticipated to increase by 28%, with the Boland region contributing 12% more cartons than last year.
Regions in the northern parts of the country, including Burgersfort/Ohrigstad, Senwes and Hoedspruit, are also expected to see exponential growth in soft citrus outputs.
The Sunday’s River Valley, which exports almost half of the region’s lemons is expected to export 12-million cartons this year, an 18% year-on-year increase.
Nelspruit, Letsitele and Burgersfort/Ohrigstad are slated to show massive growth ranging from 40% to 55% compared with last year.
“While we are confident that the 2020 season will be a success, we are also aware that there are events beyond growers’ control that could impact on final export numbers,” cautioned Chadwick.
He highlighted in particular that the coronavirus (Covid-19) outbreak presented a new challenge to fresh produce exporters across the globe.
“It is encouraging that China’s logistics services are expected to be fully operational soon, with cargo volumes and ship calls having swiftly rebounded over the past two weeks,” said Chadwick.
However, the outbreak across the European Union (EU), the largest export market for South Africa’s citrus, remains a concern and could still result in a decrease in demand and a shortfall of containers when the export season kicks off in May.
“It is, therefore, critical that exporters confirm that there are containers available before they start shipping,” he said.
Challenges at South Africa’s ports, including aging and out of service infrastructure, as well as unresolved labour issues, also remain a threat to export volumes.
However, the CGA is proactively engaging with Transnet and welcomes recent steps taken including by the company to improve operations at a number of the ports, informed Chadwick.
This includes the procurement of new equipment for both the Port Elizabeth and Durban ports, which is expected to arrive before the start of the export season.
With the citrus industry expected to grow by a further 500 000 t over the next three to five years, the CGA will continue to focus on opening and expanding market access in key markets including China, US, India, Philippines, Japan, Vietnam and the EU, he noted.