While the world continues its battle against the novel coronavirus, the South African fresh produce industry will raise their glasses for a toast to mark their stellar achievements in the agricultural industry.
Despite ongoing challenges in the exports sector, the industry has seemingly made lemonade from the proverbial lemon and has managed to continue apace.
Speaking of lemons, the citrus industry has stolen the show as it has recently revealed that 148.8 million cartons have been shipped and they’re still counting. The industry is yet to conclude the season and has only now reached 95% of completion, says CEO of the Citrus Grower Association (CGA), Justin Chadwick.
The soft citrus review is anticipating a record volume of 150 million cartons total shipped to ports across the globe.
“It has been a great season and it will be a record season once we get to the end of it. There is still some unpacking and exporting, we still haven’t concluded the season. Once it is over and we have shipped our last carton we will conduct a review. According to the soft citrus review, we are pretty close to a 150 million cartons,” he says.
Among others, apples, pear, table grapes, avocados, macadamia nuts, wine, maize and sugar cane have also managed to thrive reveals Agbiz CEO Dr John Purchase.
Amid economic woes, victories no matter how small are welcomed, he says. “Any exports that bring in foreign exchange and improve our balance of payments are absolutely necessary for our struggling economy.”
According to Purchase, the table grape harvest had already concluded before the national lockdown was announced and had recorded a high record harvest and export volume.
The citrus and fruit sectors conducted activities under lockdown with tough restrictions on both farms and packhouses to safeguard farm employees from the virus.
The avocado industry is also managing to run apace despite activities coinciding with the lockdown, says CEO of Subtrop, Derek Donkin.
“Our exports started at the end of February this year and we are more than 95% through. Fortunately, the demand for avocados through the markets remained strong throughout the period.”
Markets took a hard hit with the closure of restaurants globally. “The main challenges were really logistical in terms of the ports and transport. This year the export crop will come to 62 000 metric tonnes.
“What you have in the avocado industry, is what we call an alternate bearing cycle where you would have a larger season followed by a smaller season. In 2019 we exported 56 000, and in 2018 there was a big crop of 83 000.”
“We predict over the next five to seven years that our exports will continue increasing.”
Crisis averted at Cape Town port
The road towards normalcy has revealed many areas of concern at the Port of Cape Town, says Purchase.
Port disruptions kicked in from the moment closures had been announced, leading to a logistical nightmare for many exporters of fresh produce throughout the globe.
The month of July saw the Port of Cape Town in crisis as it became the centre of delays and bottlenecks running far below capacity partly due to the covid-19 spread amongst employees.
Collaborative efforts have been made to mitigate the crisis of ports, says Purchase.
“It was a big problem; it was a major concern, but many people helped to get the ports open again. We have been in contact with Transnet at top level and we have also got planned meetings coming up on 16 October where we will be participating in the strategic sessions with Transnet regarding the ports and the railways.”
Purchase says they will engage with Transnet about a number of issues. “Transnet has a totally new executive team and we have met with them and it looks promising.”