The industry has been thriving in the past year, despite the Covid-19 pandemic. Two landmark export agreements have come to fruition and exports are expected to grow by up to 500,000 tons in the next three to five years.

As our economy continues to take enormous strain from ongoing Covid-19 restrictions, it is worth reflecting on how best we can continue to grow it while ensuring that the outcomes of this growth benefits as many people as possible, especially those who, owing to our painful history, were deliberately excluded from economic opportunities.

These are questions that have exercised us in the citrus industry, especially within the CGA Grower Development Company, which was established to support black citrus growers. Standing almost alone among many other sectors of the economy, the South African citrus industry has had an excellent year despite the impact of Covid-19. This has been due to increased global demand for citrus produce, but also in large measure owing to the hard work and innovation of our local growers.

Local citrus exports are expected to grow by a further 500,000 tons over the next three to five years, making the future of our industry certainly seem bright — as long as we can continue to optimise, expand and retain overseas markets.

We celebrated as the first South African shipment of citrus headed off to the Philippines last month. This historic occasion followed 12 years of negotiations between the two countries, with a landmark work plan finally signed by the Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development and the Philippines Bureau of Plant and Industry at the end of 2020.

This new market presents an export potential of 20,000 tons of citrus fruit, with earnings of close to R205-million annually. It will also create desperately needed jobs, particularly in rural areas where unemployment is rife.

Another welcome milestone was the recent signing of a revised citrus protocol between South Africa and China by Agriculture Minister Thoko Didiza, which will allow lemons to be shipped to the Chinese market. With local lemon production expected to grow by 175,000 metric tons by 2024, the finalisation of the revised protocol means China will become a critical new market for this growth, securing R325-million in new export revenue and 800 new jobs.

We are also extremely proud that the successes in the citrus industry have been felt by black citrus growers across the country. This is part of a sustained focus in the industry aimed at making it more inclusive and ensuring that those previously excluded from opportunity are given every chance to reach their full potential.

Locally, black citrus growers have achieved a 40% increase in their production figures across the board. Several farms and black growers recorded an increase in output of between 40,000 and 99,000 cartons between 2019 and 2020. Most farms increased their output to local markets by an astounding 55%. When it comes to increased market access, 75% of black citrus growers in South Africa currently export their produce to overseas markets, with black growers in the Eastern Cape increasing their export figures (in terms of carton numbers) by more than 25% in the past year alone.

In our home market, black growers supplied more than 400,000 cartons of fruit to South African grocery stores and supermarkets in 2020, ensuring consumers had access to vitamin C during the pandemic.

The Citrus Growers’ Association Grower Development Company (CGA-GDC), which was established in 2016 to facilitate transformation within the industry, has worked with government and other social partners over the past five years to support black growers. This has included assistance with enterprise development through technical and business management support, along with programmes to help them upskill and achieve regulatory compliance for the local and international commercialisation of their produce.

We have also helped provide critical infrastructure and equipment on their farms. We are thrilled that our interventions are clearly having a positive impact on the sector. We hope to continue expanding our support for black farmers and recently finalised a four-year transformation plan that aims to increase the profitability and sustainability of black citrus enterprises.

The plan focuses on the continued provision of enterprise development and the roll-out of socioeconomic development programmes in rural communities, and on having more black growers in industry leadership positions.

We also hope to continue playing a critical role in helping black growers to secure title deeds and water-use licences for their farms. In this regard, the CGA-GDC regularly facilitates between growers and government departments to remove any blockages in the issuing of deeds and licences.

With so much to celebrate in the citrus industry, the CGA-GDC looks forward to continuing to fulfil its main objective — to grow the volume, value and level of participation of black growers and thereby contribute to meaningful and inclusive economic growth in South Africa. S

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