Even while tackling some of the biggest industry challenges to date, the citrus sector’s top leader is flying South Africa’s flag high on the global stage. Justin Chadwick, CEO of the Citrus Growers Association of Southern Africa, has just been re-elected as the co-chair of the World Citrus Organisation.
Chadwick heads up the organisation alongside Jose Antonio Garcia of Ailimpo in Spain and says that he is excited that South Africa can work alongside Spain as the number one citrus exporter in the world. Chadwick regards the re-election as a huge honour for him and an opportunity to position the citrus sector as a global source of safe and nutritious fruit.
Food For Mzansi caught up with Chadwick, who took the time to answer five quick questions.
Tiisetso Manoko: Congratulations are in order. What does this re-election mean for citrus growers back home?
Justin Chadwick: It is significant to be elected as co-chair with Spain because Spain is the number one exporter of citrus in the world and it is in the northern hemisphere, while South Africa is the number two citrus exporter in the world and number one in the southern hemisphere.
To be co-leader also means that we can work together in positioning the global citrus industry as a global supplier of nutritious, healthy and safe fruit.
Citrus is now having a global representative body to showcase the sector in the same way that apples, pears, avocados, table grapes, berries and other fruit sectors’ global representative bodies [do]. The citrus industry can grow market share by ensuring consumers understand the value of purchasing the product.
What are the major industry challenges and are we seeing any positive changes?
The biggest challenge is around logistics in terms of costs, availability and efficiency. Freight rates have increased to such an extent that it is uneconomic to export a large percentage of the Southern African citrus crop.
In some instances, freight rates have increased fourfold. Freight costs account for some 40% of supply chain costs. These increases are unsustainable. Availability of shipping containers is constrained due to congestion in major international ports, and some shipping lines have cancelled certain routes, meaning exporters have to truck fruit to more distant ports for shipping opportunities.
The efficiency of South African ports is not good, which results in delays and additional delays. Another challenge is the arbitrary measures imposed on South African citrus by the European Union. These latest measures are purely politically motivated to protect domestic production [in Europe].
The latest disruption on national roads further disrupts movement of fruit. Government needs to urgently ensure that all abide by the rule of law.
The industry is threatened by aging infrastructure and mismanaged ports. What’s the silver bullet here?
The Citrus Growers Association is working hard with Transnet to ensure that fruit moves through the ports and onto vessels.
This is the only solution in the short term: making sure that the infrastructure and equipment that is available is utilised and maintained in such a way that it maximises longer term solution in additional investment in the port to replace ageing equipment, maintain existing equipment and repair and modernise infrastructure.
The investment must come from the shareholder, who is government, or private sector investors. However, government will need to make such private sector investment viable to international port operators.
How has the Russia-Ukraine war affected the industry?
Between 7 and 10% of South African citrus was sent to Russia over the past three years, with growing volumes sent to Ukraine. Some fruits are still moving to Russia, but fruit to Ukraine is not possible. In addition, the war has pushed up fuel and fertiliser prices.
What do you hope to achieve during your upcoming tenure?
I would like to see all citrus producing countries having representation in the World Citrus Organisation.
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