S. Africa Orange Farmers Turn East After EU Fungus Dispute

Updated on
  • EU accounts for 43% of South Africa's citrus exports
  • South Africa Focusing on Exports to China, Indonesia

Citrus farmers in South Africa, the world’s second-biggest shipper of the fruits, are turning to new markets in Asia after their largest market, the European Union, temporarily halted imports over concern that a fungal disease would spread to farms in Spain.

Local growers are already sending small volumes to China and Indonesia and increased shipments to South Korea to 1 million cartons this year, up from 250,000 cartons three years ago, Justin Chadwick, chief executive officer of the Citrus Growers’ Association, said in an interview in Johannesburg on Wednesday. The country produces oranges, lemons and grapefruit.

“Those are the countries that have the biggest opportunity to grow exports by big amounts in the shortest possible time,” Chadwick said.

South Africa is battling to contain black spot disease, which causes blemishes on the peel of the fruit and led the European Union to refuse entry to some of the produce last year. The EU, which buys about 43 percent of South Africa’s citrus exports, said in a report this month that the African country had contained the disease to the point it met EU import requirements after measures were put in place for more stringent checks.

"There is a risk that Europe could bring about harsher measures in the future," according to Chadwick. The EU could stop exports to certain regions, or halt specific products, if they are considered high risk, he said.

MAP: South Africa

A South African government economic plan envisions adding 15,000 hectares (37,065 acres) of land under citrus cultivation, which could boost exports by as much as 30 million cartons annually within 15 years and create 15,000 jobs, Chadwick said. Citrus farmers are improving their orchards in the Limpopo and Eastern Cape provinces, where 25 percent of the country’s citrus is grown.

We have to find somewhere for all that citrus to go," Chadwick said. There’s "no use producing if we cannot sell it."

The official estimate by the citrus growers association for exports is 112 million cartons this year, though Chadwick said sales abroad may match last year’s 115 million cartons.

"I say we could get close, very close to 115 million cartons and I am basing that on the fact that there is still a sharp demand for lemons," he said.

South Africa is the world’s largest citrus shipper after Spain and the industry employs an estimated 100,000 people. Exports account for 80 percent of the industry’s 9.4 billion rand ($712 million) in annual revenue.

"Where we see the big export markets in is mostly the far East Asia, also in Eastern Europe, basically Russia," said Chadwick. "Thirdly, an economy we have not really exploited is Africa, but we still need to do a lot of research."