For agricultural economist Lunathi Hlakanyane, the success of the kiwifruit, blueberry and mushroom markets in the last year make these commodities the ones farmers should be looking towards to expand their operations. Despite being rather small, these markets flourished during a highly uncertain time in the country’s agricultural sector.
Hlakanyane says that his analysis of these markets show quite a lot of interesting trends in the last year and a half, with consumer demand for these commodities increasing both locally and globally.
He recommends that small to medium-scale farmers record accurate transactional and operational data, as this data will guide them during uncertain times.
“The numbers will provide you with a level of [reassurance] that experience alone could never [do]. And so, what I would like to emphasise to farmers is that, regardless of the size of your operations, you must anchor your decision-making mechanisms on what the data tells you. This is absolutely crucial for sustainability, for growth and for navigating your way around the very volatile South African economy.”
Keep an eye on the kiwi industry
Believe it or not, but kiwifruits are not native to New Zealand. Though the country is currently the world’s biggest producer of the commodity, the fruit actually hails from China and Taiwan. The fruit was formerly known as the Chinese gooseberry, and the very first seed was planted in New Zealand in 1904. Currently, New Zealand makes up over 20% of the global market.
South Africa’s kiwi industry is not nearly as big, with just over 200 hectares dedicated to the crop. However, the industry continues to grow in the country, especially after the introduction of the green, red and gold kiwi cultivars. Kiwi producers stretch across the country, from the Western Cape, the Eastern Cape, Mpumalanga and KwaZulu-Natal.
In this Southern Hemisphere kiwi market report, South Africa’s kiwi industry is highlighted as one to watch. The report explains that, while South Africa’s market is still very small, in 2020 the country shipped 256 tonnes of kiwifruit to Europe. Of that total amount, 105 tonnes were exported to the United Kingdom alone. South Africa also exports the fruit to Canada, Israel, Uganda and Zambia.
Hlakanyane says that only about 20% of the kiwi produced in the country is actually consumed here.
His most compelling reason for encouraging smallholders to try the kiwi fruit is simple.
“On the global scale or the international scale, kiwi has grown quite exponentially as well, especially over the past two decades. In 2001, the value of kiwi on the international market was roughly about R6.2 billion and that figure has grown to almost R60 billion by the end of last year. So I think kiwi in this regard, especially for our small and emerging farmers, is low-hanging fruit, pardon the pun.”
Fast-growing blueberry market
Known as a superfruit, blueberry production in South Africa has increased exponentially in the last ten years. Hlakanyane explains that, like the kiwifruit industry, the blueberry industry in the country is export focused.
“The industry has managed to grow its export base in particular over the past ten years from about roughly over 600 tonnes to slightly south of 9000 tonnes by the end of last year. In value terms, this has translated into growth of about R130 million in 2013 and slightly north of R1.1 billion at the end of last year.”
Prior to that, blueberry farming was restricted to high chilling areas like the Free State. High chilling areas refer to areas where cold temperatures occur for large periods of time. However, 2010 saw the introduction of new blueberry cultivars that thrive in low chilling areas, which encouraged production of the fruit to expand.
Currently, the blueberry market is dominated by producers in the Western Cape. The fruit is also grown in Limpopo, North West, Gauteng, Eastern Cape, Free State and Mpumalanga, and is generally grown under shade nets and tunnels.
Hlakanyane advises upcoming farmers to consider growing blueberries due to how fast the industry has grown. “The growth of blueberry exports in the country has been quite amazing to witness, especially given the fact that blueberries have been growing constantly at an annual growth rate of roughly about 50/51%, give or take.”
Look at popular mushrooms
Mushrooms are an incredibly popular commodity across the world, with China being both the world’s biggest consumer and producer. China produces over 5 million tonnes of the fungi every year, and other big producers – including Italy – at 761 000 tonnes, the USA at 390 000 tonnes, and the Netherlands at 301 000 tonnes.
Comparatively, South Africa’s annual production of 21 000 tonnes is rather small, though not easily dismissible, as everyone’s favourite fungi generates an estimated R940 million per year.
Half of the mushrooms in the country are grown in Gauteng, with the rest coming from the Western Cape and KwaZulu-Natal. According to this BizBolts report, the country produces around 21 000 tonnes of the commodity every year, with Namibia and Mauritius being the primary export recipients.
Hlakanyane explains that the mushroom market has grown steadily in the last few years. “Much of this [growth] has been driven by the popularity of Asian cusine in the country and our neighbouring countries as well, which has created this really nice market for exotic mushrooms. For any emerging farmer looking to diversify their production, mushrooms would be a really great point to start.”
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