Record harvest: Only Spain beats SA’s citrus exports

The South African citrus industry has witnessed a record start to their year as 2020 exports for fresh citrus surged to a new record. The industry is expecting to grow even more during the next few years, adding more than 22 000 sustainable jobs

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South Africa’s citrus industry looks set to hold on to its title as the world’s second-largest exporter of fresh citrus – after Spain – for at least another year.

The industry announced a record-breaking 2020 export season which delivered 146 million cartons of SA citrus to the rest of the world. This is 3 million cartons more than what was predicted at the start of harvest season ten months ago.

In a statement shared by Justin Chadwick, CEO of the Citrus Growers’ Association of Southern Africa (CGA), he described it as excellent news for the industry and the country that is slowly emerging from the initial economic devastation of Covid-19.

“It is difficult to tangibly quantify the size and volume of the citrus exported last year, but if we were to stack 146 million cartons of fruit side-by-side, the line of cartons would span approximately 40 000km in length. That is equal to the height of 4.4 Mount Everests stacked one on top of the other,” Chadwick noted.

Justin Chadwick, CEO of the Citrus Growers Association and chairperson of Fruit SA’s board. Photo: CGA
Justin Chadwick, CEO of the Citrus Growers Association and chairperson of Fruit SA’s board. Photo: CGA

These figures, he said, indicate phenomenal growth within Mzansi’s citrus industry, which remains the second largest exporter of fresh citrus in the world after Spain.

The achievement rests on the strength of close collaborations and partnerships within the industry and government. It is also testament to the quality of South African citrus fruit which is in demand all over the globe, Chadwick indicated.

‘Investments starting to pay off’

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The citrus industry’s record start to the year has been welcomed by the minister of agriculture, land reform and rural development, Thoko Didiza.

In a statement she congratulated the industry and committed to work with stakeholders to boost the growth in the sector.

“The industry has expanded notably over the past decade, and we thank the farmers for showing confidence and increasing the investments. The industry’s investment is starting to pay off,” said Didiza.

Going forward, she believes the challenge will be ensuring that her department opens more export markets for the industry.

Thoko Didiza, the minister of agriculture, land reform and rural development. Photo: Twitter

This in light of growth estimates suggesting that roughly 300 000 tonnes more than the current volumes will require an export market in the next three years.

“As a government, we commit to working with the industry and other stakeholders to expand the market access to destinations such as the United States, China and India, and the European Union and other countries that already enjoy South African citrus. In the process, we will work with relevant stakeholders in improving logistics for export activity,” Didiza said.  

Last year President Cyril Ramaphosa announced agriculture as being part of the country’s economic reconstruction and recovery plan. To this end, the minister vowed to continue working with all stakeholders to ensure that government provides a policy environment conducive for all subsectors to prosper.

“Part of the growth-enhancing interventions is detailed in the Sector Master Plan, which will be announced within the first quarter of the year,” she hinted.

Citrus growers, get ready for more

Meanwhile, Chadwick says they are also committed and ready to work with all stakeholders and partners in government to open more international doors for their fruit.

Should the industry continue to gain and expand access in key markets as mentioned by the minister, Chadwick believes there is no reason why South Africa will not meet long-term industry projections to export 200 million cartons of citrus fruit within the next five years.

The record-breaking export season also follows the gazetting of the new citrus export levy last month, which CGA believes will enable the citrus industry to grow its global market share even further through reinvesting grower funds into research, market access and transformation.

Read: Didiza approves R134 million boost for citrus growers

The potential export growth of 300 000 tonnes over the next three years could mean billions of rands flowing into the country. The growth projections for soft citrus, lemons and Valencia oranges alone indicate an expected additional R6.8  billion in foreign exchange earnings.

Furthermore, the creation of 22 250 sustainable jobs and increased revenue for the country’s economy is expected over the next three to four years.

Chadwick states, “We look forward to playing our part in South Africa’s economic reconstruction and recovery plan by increasing agricultural exports, creating jobs and continuing to invest in transformation. Together, we can change the lives of many South Africans for the better.”

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