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Cape Town port crisis throttling agriculture exports

Despite the easing of lockdown regulations covid-19 disruptions keep slowing down agricultural exports

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Travel restrictions and covid-19 disruptions continue to grind on agricultural exports. The Port of Cape Town has become the centre of delays and bottlenecks as it is currently still running far below capacity.

This partly due to the high rate of infection in the Western Cape province resulting in a shortage of labour. Western Cape fruit farmers have started diverting some exports to Eastern Cape ports to avoid delays.

Transnet chief operating officer, Velile Dube, in a statement said that the freight logistics body has introduced several solutions to deal with operational backlogs at the Port of Cape Town, caused by the covid-19 pandemic.

To alleviate the pressure at port terminals and the National Ports Authority, 20 employees from the Durban Container Terminal (DCT) have been deployed to the container and multipurpose terminals at the port of Cape Town.

Logistics development manager at the Citrus Growers Association Mitchell Brooke. Photo: LinkedIn

The situation remains dire however, says logistics development manager at the Citrus Growers Association, Mitchell Brooke. “They (Transnet) had to remove a number of people from the terminal and this caused a reduction in the capacity. They were running at about 40-60 % for quite some time.”

Producers of fresh fruit in the Western Cape have now been forced to use terminals in the Eastern Cape and Durban where ports are running at 70% capacity, Brooke says.

“The exports are happening, but not at the pace that we are used to. In the Western Cape specifically there is a lot of fruit that is moving up to the Eastern Cape to export from there. The Eastern Cape ports and Durban are running without any issue whatsoever.”

Deciduous fruit grower’s organisation Hortgro says that the inefficiency of the Cape Town port is not a new issue. The port has had a history of inadequacy, and the global pandemic has intensified this, says manager of trade and markets, Jacques Du Preez. “That has been coming on for many years now. There is a lack of upgrading, a lack of equipment, and a lack of maintenance which has now all been worsened by the virus.”

Jacques Du Preez is Hortgro’s general manager for trade and markets. Photo: Supplied

While Transnet has made attempts to mitigate the crisis in Cape Town, this has not been enough, he says. “The productivity at Cape Town is so bad that it’s still working at a low base and causing a bit of a delay in our exports there.”

Even in peak fruit export season there have been reports of two-week delays at the port, he says. This is costly as producers are now forced to pay the extra added trucking charge to get produce out of the country. “The efficiency of the Cape Town port has not increased at all,” he adds.

Wine producers are in the same boat, says communication manager at Wines of South Africa, Maryna Calow.  “As the challenge is ongoing, we are definitely hoping that the additional work force that Transnet has provided to assist at the port will assist with the backlog and bring the situation back up to date.”

Maryna Calow, communication manager at Wines of South Africa.

Under alert level five of the national lockdown alcohol and the export thereof was banned. This had a severe impact on the relations between exporter and international imports, says Calow. “The real concern has been supplying our importers timeously. They haven’t been receiving their product on time and we are concerned that we may be losing our listings in our international markets.”

“It’s really out of our hands. We have to wait and see what the long-term effect will be. For now it looks like Transnet is certainly trying their best to remedy the situation.”

The container and multipurpose terminals at the port have been operating at reduced capacity since the introduction of the lockdown. Since the easing of regulations port activities have increased, Transnet says.

Noluthando Ngcakani
Noluthando Ngcakani
With roots in the Northern Cape, this Kimberley Diamond has had a passion for telling human interest stories since she could speak her first words. A foodie by heart, she began her journalistic career as an intern at the SABC where she discovered her love for telling agricultural, community and nature related stories. Not a stranger to a challenge Ngcakani will go above and beyond to tell your truth.
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