The citrus industry continues to scramble to secure enough mobile refrigerated shipping containers, known as reefer containers, in order to meet this year’s citrus crop exports.
Estimates received by the Variety Focus Groups indicate that 95 000 reefer containers will be needed to export South Africa’s citrus.
The probability of reefer equipment shortage is closely being monitored by the Citrus Growers Association (CGA). However, the citrus body indicates that with the deciduous and subtropical fruit volumes included, 120 000 reefer containers will be needed between April and October.
With the expected bumper season ahead amidst container challenges, the big question is what this will mean for Mzansi’s citrus exports this year.
Some relief for citrus industry
According to Justin Chadwick, chief executive of the CGA, freight costs could be high this year as South Africa competes in the current global freight demand cycle.
“There is a challenge globally in the repositioning of reefer equipment to places around the world where they are needed.
“Since there is such a high demand for general freight movement out of China to the USA, South America and EU… with exorbitant freight rates being charged due to the high demand, lines are forgoing allocating space on vessels to reposition reefer containers,” Chadwick explains.
Recently, the Mediterranean Shipping Company (MSC) stepped in and agreed to divert a vessel carrying nearly 2 000 empty reefer containers to the Port of Ngqura to assist with citrus exports. This is a deep-water port on the east coast of South Africa.
“MSC Altair bringing in 2 000 containers to Coega for distribution to Durban and Cape Town is great news as the citrus industry gears up for 2021,” announced Chadwick in a Twitter post this week.
According to the Transnet National Ports Authority, the MSC Altair was initially heading for West-Africa from the Far East. It has since been diverted to the Eastern Cape port.
Another good Samaritan, Maersk Vallvik, earlier this month, repositioned 700 refrigerated containers from the Middle East into South Africa. The empty reefers arrived in Durban.
According to the shipment container company this formed part of their continuous cargo flow plan currently in place. They want to ensure that all their customers are served throughout the year to cover all fruit seasons.
Exporters cautioned to re-calculate costs
It appears that the massive demand for protein products in China, especially pork, is also contributing to Mzansi’s container woes. This, as the Chinese are battling a new form of African swine fever identified in Chinese pig farms.
“Many reefer containers are being shipped from the USA, South America and EU back to China. So, it seems there is a perfect imbalance in trade flows causing an equipment stockpile in China,” Chadwick explains.
the severity of the issue has affected deciduous exports from the Western Cape with devastating consequences on exports.
Going into the 2021 season, CGA is cautioning exporters to ensure their market prices can cover the higher cost of freight.
According to the citrus body capacity and infrastructure will be tested to the limits if the volume meets the estimates. Transnet’s ability to manage the flows will be paramount to achieve success in 2021.
Coordination and clear communication, Chadwick believes, will be key for a successful season.