SA’s citrus fruit has to undergo rigorous screening before it can be exported to ensure it conforms to global disease regulations, such as that regarding citrus black spot. Picture: REUTERS
SA’s citrus fruit has to undergo rigorous screening before it can be exported to ensure it conforms to global disease regulations, such as that regarding citrus black spot. Picture: REUTERS

New orchards coming into production and good rains have resulted in a record export season for SA and the region’s citrus industry.

Southern Africa is expected to export 143.3-million cartons of citrus fruit to more than 100 countries in 2020. This is a 13% increase when compared to 2019, during which 126.7-million cartons were exported, generating R20bn in export revenue and creating 120,000 jobs.

The increase in exports will boost foreign currency earnings and drive the national government’s goal of increasing agricultural exports over the next few years. SA remains the second-largest global exporter of citrus fruit after Spain.

Justin Chadwick, CEO of the Citrus Growers’ Association, said on Tuesday 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 in 2020, said Chadwick.

“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 final export numbers. Most notably, the coronavirus outbreak presents a new challenge to fresh produce exporters across the globe,” Chadwick said.

However, the sector is encouraged 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, he said.

“The outbreak across the EU, the largest export market for SA’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,” Chadwick said.

He highlighted the challenges at SA’s ports, including ageing and out-of-service infrastructure as well as unresolved labour issues that remain a threat to export volumes.

“However, the Citrus Growers’ Association is proactively engaging with Transnet and welcomes recent steps taken including by the company to improve operations at a number of the ports. 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.”

Chadwick said with the citrus industry expected to grow by a further 500,000 tonnes over the next three to five years, the association will continue to focus on opening and expanding market access in key markets including China, USA, India, Philippines, Japan, Vietnam and the EU.

phakathib@businesslive.co.za