Picture: 123RF/MARCO OSSINO
Picture: 123RF/MARCO OSSINO

I was recently asked what 2-million tonnes of citrus (we expect to export just more than this amount in 2020) would look like if all the fruit was stacked together in one place.

An expert’s calculations reveal that it equals 9.6-billion pieces of fruit, which if strung in a single line would cover 720,000km, circling the earth almost 18 times or nearly reaching to the moon and back. If these pieces of fruit were placed on the ground it would cover an area of 7,500 football fields.

The citrus industry is expected to grow a further 500,000 tonnes in the next three to five years — an extra 1,875 football fields.

This will generate further export revenue and create more jobs in the industry. An additional R6.8bn in foreign exchange earnings and 2,250 sustainable jobs is predicted in growth projections for soft citrus, lemons and Valencias over the next three years.

However, if the industry fails to expand its access into overseas markets over the next few years there is the risk of an oversupply of the region’s exports, which would result in lower prices for our citrus. We have therefore identified the following markets, which we hope to gain, retain and optimise:

  • We have been working on gaining entry into the Philippines for the past 11 years. We are therefore thrilled that we have been given the green light to export to the country after the recent signing of a workplan between the department of agriculture, land reform & rural development and the Philippines Bureau of Plant and Industry (BPI). This new market presents an export potential of 20,000 tonnes of citrus and export earnings of about R205m annually.
  • Vietnam is a key market we hope to gain re-entry to. In 2012 the local industry exported 2,000 tonnes of citrus to the country. However, SA lost access the next year due to an administrative mistake, which caused our citrus not being included in the country’s approved permit list. Despite ongoing discussions between the SA and Vietnamese governments on the development of a new protocol, this still has not been resolved seven years later.
  • Japan offers major potential for market access expansion. It is estimated that by 2024 increased exports of lemons and soft citrus to the country could result in increased revenue of R205m and 750 new jobs on farms and in packhouses. Strict market access conditions and red tape have hampered our ability to fully realise this potential.
  • Other markets where technical issues have hampered further expansion are China and India. The Chinese market could import an additional 50,000 tonnes of lemons annually, which would bring in R700m in export revenue and create 2,500 new jobs. A delay in finalising a revised lemon protocol between our two countries has served as a blockage.
  • Exports to India have been constrained by a requirement that does not allow in-transit cold treatment. While trial shipments of oranges were conducted in 2018, the necessary clearance for in-transit cold treatment has not been finalised two years later, despite numerous engagements between the relevant authorities.
  • The EU remains a key market for SA, with 45% of total citrus exports shipped to the region this year. The EU could potentially import an additional 80,000 of lemons and soft citrus by 2024, generating R1bn in export revenue and creating 4,000 new job opportunities. However, the region’s ongoing 26-year campaign to restrict the trade of SA citrus due to the perceived threat of citrus black spot (CBS) has hampered growth. We disagree that CBS poses a threat to EU countries in light of scientific studies finding that citrus fruit without leaves is not a pathway for the spread of the pest. However, we have continued to implement a comprehensive CBS risk management programme, which has cost our industry close to R2bn per annum and has resulted in a dramatic decrease in CBS interceptions over the past five years.
  • Western Cape and Northern Cape citrus growers are expecting another bumper export season to the US this year, with about 60,000 tonnes of citrus being shipped. However, the market could potentially import an additional 75,000 tonnes of grapefruit and soft citrus within the next four years, generating just more than R1bn in export revenue and creating 3,750 new job opportunities. Growers in other regions are awaiting conclusion of a long-delayed final rule for expanded access, dating back to 2018. This rule has been through all the technical processes, and is now awaiting sign off by the US secretary of agriculture.

Much groundwork has already been done in many of these key markets and all that is required is the finalisation and signing of the necessary protocols to allow increased shipments into these countries.

The Citrus Growers’ Association of Southern Africa remains committed to working with the department, SA embassies and the various government authorities in these markets to get these agreements over the line ahead of the 2021 export season, so that our industry can increase its contribution towards job creation and inclusive growth in the country.

• Chadwick is CEO of the Citrus Growers’ Association of Southern Africa.

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