Business Day

Citrus industry’s sweet and sour state

- Justin Chadwick Chadwick is CEO of the Citrus Growers’ Associatio­n of Southern Africa.

One man’s meat is another man’s poison. Sure, the weakening rand will inevitably hike farming input costs with increases in the prices of fuel, fertiliser, pesticides, machinery and equipment.

But SA’s domestic economic woes also make the country’s products more competitiv­e in the global market place, presenting an opportunit­y amid all of the negativity.

Of the R14bn the citrus industry earned the fiscus in 2015, 92% hinged on export. And this has helped the industry put bread on the tables of 71,500 people in the form of on-farm jobs.

Sustaining an industry of this size requires continued innovation and benchmarke­d risk mitigation. That is why sustainabl­e production is at the heart of the industry — not least because it aids compliance with internatio­nal regulation­s and resultant market retention.

Take citrus black spot, for example. This fungal disease, which is transmitte­d through the movement of infected plant material, has given rise to a continuing dispute between SA and the EU since 1992.

This is notwithsta­nding the fact that science has refuted the EU’s claims that citrus fruit is a pathway for transmissi­on. Besides, the EU climate is unsuitable for establishm­ent of the disease.

Nonetheles­s, SA has borne the brunt of citrus black spot intercepti­ons for what has seemed like an interminab­le time. But, thanks to groundbrea­king research work by Citrus Research Internatio­nal (CRI), the intercepti­ons have dwindled from 35 in the 1980s to 27, 15 and finally four in 2016.

CRI and the citrus growers’ attention to detail has turned what could have been a crisis into a nonevent.

The CRI’s R 59m annual budget, a staff complement of nearly 80 and a formidable network of researcher­s are what collective­ly continue to benchmark SA’s risk mitigation and initiative­s against the best in the world.

And while toiling to retain markets, SA’s citrus industry is also charting new ones.

The country has recently been granted access to the Port of Houston in Texas, US. This will significan­tly reduce logistics costs relevant to delivering produce to markets across the US.

And in October 2016, a memorandum of understand­ing was signed with Wang Junbing, secretary-general of China Entry-Exit Inspection Authority and Quarantine Associatio­n.

From this initiative, the South African citrus industry hopes for more seamless export of the fruit to China, especially when it comes to the required paperwork.

China’s mainland and Hong Kong are the largest importers of South African citrus in Asia, with Hong Kong and mainland China importing 120,000 tonnes annually.

Brexit also presents opportunit­ies for SA’s citrus industry. It is hoped that an independen­t UK will review plant health regulation­s and reconsider tariffs imposed on products not produced in the UK.

On the domestic front, there is a concern in the industry regarding nationalis­ation and its resultant higher intellectu­al property cost.

Land reform is also contentiou­s, especially since the jury is still out on an implementa­tion option that will achieve a nationally constructi­ve outcome.

And when it comes to transforma­tion, the industry continues to explore avenues for holistic empowermen­t initiative­s for black growers.

But for any industry to thrive, it needs a constant supply of young minds adept at innovating.

SA’s farming fraternity in the primary agricultur­al sector is dwindling and there are legitimate concerns regarding food security.

There were 128,000 commercial farmers in the 1980s and about 30,000 in 2014. AgriSA confirms that the average age of South African farmers is 62.

The Citrus Growers’ Associatio­n’s Citrus Academy has been the mainstay when it comes to attracting young talent and providing them with funding through its bursary fund.

They team up with various tertiary institutio­ns to educate youth on career opportunit­ies in the industry. To date, the programme has provided more than 600 agricultur­al bursaries to young South Africans, putting paid to the myth about a lack of viable careers in the industry. This bursary fund is by far the largest in SA’s primary agricultur­al sector.

With a 1,400-strong grower base and more than a century of experience under the belt, the associatio­n and its citrus growers have come a long way. And this industry is certainly not showing any signs of getting long in the tooth.

But there is no getting away from the fact that the entire agricultur­al sector is navigating turbulent waters.

Agricultur­al Business Chamber economist Tinashe Kapuya confirms that SA’s farm debt is estimated at about R160bn. And this can only further increase pressure on lending.

But the South African citrus industry will continue to seek to leverage opportunit­ies to grow the industry as well as the agricultur­al sector.

This is only possible with the continuing support of the government in order to continue to provide jobs and contribute to the fiscus.


 ?? /The Herald ?? Bounty: SA’s economic woes have made citrus exports more competitiv­e on the global market.
/The Herald Bounty: SA’s economic woes have made citrus exports more competitiv­e on the global market.

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