As South Africa moves into its fourth week of a national lockdown, the citrus industry continues to focus on ensuring consumers have access to fresh citrus fruit while safeguarding the health of its workers.

In this regard, the Citrus Growers’ Association of Southern Africa (CGA) is pleased to have seen an increase in demand for lemons from overseas markets, with 4,5 million cartons having been shipped to date – double the 2019 volumes for the same period (1,8 million cartons). The bulk of these shipments (64%) were shipped to the Middle East, while shipments to Russia have increased from 9 to 12%. Shipping of soft citrus (424 000 cartons to date) and grapefruit (411 000 cartons to date) are similar to the previous year’s exports.

However, the CGA acknowledges that these unprecedented times could threaten business continuity, which is why it has established a COVID-19 Response Committee (CRC). The committee will identify risks and opportunities arising from the pandemic and national lockdown and develop plans to address these issues going forward.

Risks that could affect the current export season

The CRC met for the first time last week and identified several risks that could affect the current export season. These include operational and efficiency issues at ports, ensuring the health and safety of workers, transporting of workers to farms and citrus to ports, ensuring business continuity of supporting industries, obtaining the necessary documentation for exports (e.g. phytosanitary certificates and shipping cargo receipts), the continuation of fruit inspection services, and the cost and availability of ships.

The CGA is working closely with various stakeholders, including government departments, organised agriculture and the National Joint Command Centre, to mitigate these risks. However, challenges at some ports remain the biggest threat to the current citrus season.

Staff shortages and labour protests have affected operations at Cape Town and Durban ports over the past few weeks. Non-essential containers that have not been moved or unpacked have also caused bottlenecks at ports.

Unblocking the country’s ports

These issues have been raised with Transnet management and the National Joint Command Centre, and the CGA welcomes the steps taken to increase staff capacity at all ports as well as recent amendments to the Disaster Management Act to allow for the movement of both essential and non-essential cargo at ports. The CGA will continue to monitor the situation and engage with Transnet and government to clear any further blockages at our country’s ports.

Despite these risks, the CGA remains cautiously optimistic regarding the current export season. It remains committed to working with all stakeholders to ensure it meets its responsibilities and uses its privileged position as an essential food producer wisely during the national lockdown. – Press release, Citrus Growers’ Association of Southern Africa