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Citrus growers in Southern Africa see mandatory cold treatment in the EU as a threat to their industry's future

The increase in production costs and worldwide shipments, among other obstacles such as the one imposed by the European Union, see the profitability of the South African citrus sector diminish.


South African citrus.

Citrus growers in southern Africa packed 164.8 million boxes of 15 kg each for export, which will be delivered to world markets in 2022. While this represents an increase of 3.2 million boxes compared to 202, that's 5.7 million fewer boxes than what was predicted at the start of the season.

These figures highlight the extremely tough season that producers have had to endure, which has negatively impacted their profits and the volumes they were able to export, threatening the future sustainability of the industry, which supports more than 140,000 jobs and generates 30 billion dollars. rands (South African currency) in income to South Africa each year, equivalent to 1,618 million euros.

Challenges facing the southern African industry this season include rising farm input prices and transportation costs, as well as skyrocketing increases in shipping prices, which made the cost of getting the fruit to market commercially unviable for many producers. At the same time, the new regulations, considered by the Association of Citrus Growers of Southern Africa as "unjustified and discriminatory" against the false moth (FCM), approved by the European Union (EU) in the middle of season created increased pressure and financial risk for growers. These challenges were added to the continued deterioration of public infrastructure, such as road, rail and port operations; erratic electricity supply and a drop in real export prices. This means already tight margins for citrus growers have been reduced to the point where only one in five farms are likely to have a positive return this season.

As a result, while there was modest growth in packaged and exported fruit in some citrus varieties compared to 2021, the final numbers were much lower than what was forecast when the season began in March this year. This can be seen when it comes to mandarins, where 31.8 million boxes have been packed for export to key markets this season, representing an increase of 900,000 boxes from 2021, but 2.7 million fewer than the forecast for the season. Lemon volume growth continued unabated, with 34.7 million boxes packed for export in 2022, an increase of 3.6 million boxes over the prior year and 2.4 million boxes more than anticipated.

The perfect storm of challenges also resulted in a drop in export volumes for some varieties compared to 2021. For example, 16.7 million boxes of grapefruit were packed for export this year, 800,000 fewer than the 17.5 million boxes. boxes from the previous year. There was also a decrease in the number of boxes of Valencia oranges packed for export, with 53.8 million boxes exported compared to 55 million in 2021.

The only other category to see positive growth was Navels, with 27.8 million cases packed for export in 2022, an increase of 600,000 cases compared to last year. However, it was 900,000 boxes less than the forecast of 28.7 million boxes at the start of the season.

The decline in fruit being shipped this season is of particular concern to the Southern African Citrus Growers Association in light of the current forecast that fruit produced and available for export will continue to grow by 10 million tonnes. boxes per year (on average) for the next decade, reaching 200 million boxes in the next 5 years and growing to 260 million in the next ten years.

This means that the industry could potentially sustain another 100,000 jobs and generate an additional R20 billion in revenue annually, bringing its total contribution to 240,000 jobs and R50 billion in revenue, provided key markets and the logistics infrastructure are secured and optimized to absorb this increased growth.

The Citrus Growers Association of Southern Africa (CGA) "remains committed to working with the government to optimize, secure and retain as many market access opportunities as possible to ensure that growers can export their fruit with good yields". Key markets that offer great potential to expand access and require special attention ahead of the 2023 season are the United States, India, China, Japan, Vietnam and the Philippines.

Addressing some of the astronomical costs faced by growers is another priority for the association. Significant increases in shipping prices that have caused freight costs to rise by more than 150% in the past two years have had a devastating impact on growers' profit margins, putting many of these companies at risk. local. This is why the CGA has commissioned a project with other fruit industries to investigate options for structural change in the shipping environment to control freight rates and improve service delivery. However, the early indication of a normalization of container movement being seen around the world should also lead to a balance in container supply and demand and some relief in shipping rates in 2023.

The CGA is of the opinion that the new EU FCM regulations, which will require mandatory cold treatment of oranges entering the region, are a major threat to the future sustainability of the industry. These regulations are also completely unnecessary in light of the world-class and highly effective FCM risk management systems already in place. Therefore, the CGA continues to support both the Department of Trade, Industry and Competition and the Department of Agriculture, Agrarian Reform and Rural Development in the current dispute filed with the World Trade Organization (WTO) and hopes that the process will result in a solution that is mutually acceptable to all parties.

Finally, while there have been some short-term improvements at the country's ports as a result of Transnet-driven interventions during the 2022 season, the expected annual increase in containers of fruit being shipped from South Africa over the next few years will pose a problem. . great pressure on ports, if ongoing infrastructure and operational issues are not addressed.
Therefore, the CGA remains committed to working with Transnet and other stakeholders through the upcoming 2023 season to identify any issues at the ports and find solutions to resolve them. The fact that the process to bring public-private partnerships to the ports of Durban and Ngqura is still on track to conclude early next year is extremely positive and it is critical that similar partnership opportunities are explored for the port of Cape Town.

While it is clear that the challenges faced this season have reduced grower profit margins and continue to threaten the industry's future profitability and sustainability, the CGA looks forward to working with government and other value chain partners to ensure that the sector not only survives for the short term, but remains South Africa's number one agricultural exporter and largest agricultural employer for years to come.

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