Citrus group holds breath

Cindy Preller

A DELEGATION from South Africa is lobbying in Brussels against the ban on citrus exports to the European Union (EU). If the ban, which was imposed towards the end of the season due to concerns over citrus black spot on the South African fruit, continues next year, it will severely affect the South African, and especially the Eastern Cape, citrus export market.

Before the EU ban, about 40% of citrus exported out of South Africa was destined for European markets. This year 77.1 million cartons of oranges were exported from South Africa, with EU countries taking the biggest share.

One of the suggestions on the table from the Citrus Growers’ Association of Southern Africa (CGASA) proposes a compromise solution, where the ban could be imposed purely for citrus-producing regions of the EU.

The ban was imposed last month due to fears citrus black spot would threaten the EU’s citrus-producing areas, where the disease is not present.

CGASA chief executive Justin Chadwick will be returning to South Africa at the end of the week from talks with the EU.

He was unavailable to comment on the negotiations yesterday, but in his latest newsletter to citrus producers Chadwick warned before citrus exports could commence in 2014, field orchard inspections had to be conducted by the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries.

Despite the storm over the EU ban, Chadwick said navel orange exports surpassed the 25 million carton mark this year. The final packed figure was 26.3 million cartons in 2013 compared to 24.6 million navels packed last year.

A total of 50.8 million cartons of valencia oranges were exported in 2013, bringing the total number of oranges exported this year to 77.1 million cartons.

The Eastern Cape is the second largest citrus producing region, after Limpopo (23753ha), with a total of 13951ha being used for citrus farming.

Sundays River Citrus Company managing director Ken Nieuwenhuizen said the 2014 export of soft citrus fruit would only begin in late March.

Patensie Citrus Company managing director Gerhard Uys said the company only started exporting in March and were awaiting the outcome of the negotiations.

The EU ban only applied to regions where the disease was present and to the 2012-13 harvest, which ended in October.

Meanwhile, a report on black spot disease is expected to be released by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) at the end of this month.

The EFSA will evaluate the risks of black spot disease to the European citrus groves.

Citrus black spot is a fungal disease that manifests on the rind of fruit but does not affect the fruit itself, and is safe for human consumption.

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