Export farmers, hunting industry on tenterhooks
Agriculture industry role players in the Eastern Cape — particularly those who export to Italy and China — are watching anxiously to see how the coronavirus pandemic will affect business.
And the multibillion-rand hunting industry, in particular, is bracing for the impact of international cancellations.
Professional Hunters’ Association of SA president Dries van Coller said it had met government officials on Tuesday afternoon to discuss a way forward.
“We are anticipating a massive impact on the industry and tourism in general,” he said.
“We have seen international cancellations already and are advising members to postpone their hunts and engagements until we get clarity.
“We are bracing for the impact and are putting plans in place to try to mitigate the risk and effects it will have.”
VanColler said the association had received several calls from small business owners who relied on the international hunting trade.
“Everyone is very concerned and we are going to be assessing ways to try to mitigate this.
“It is still early days to predict the exact impact and what the losses will be. We are hoping to get answers soon so the situation can normalise.”
With trade partners such as Italy on lockdown, citrus farmers said it was still too early to tell how they would be affected.
On Monday, Endulini Sundays River Fruit operations manager Gustav Bell said there were some shipping vessels carrying apples and grapes that could not offload product in parts of the world affected by the virus.
“We’re hoping that by the time we have to ship our products out, things [will] have returned to normal because we’ve had a good harvest and we’re not short on fruit,” Bell said.
With 1,000 seasonal employees, Bell said Endulini had installed scanners and thermometers around its pack houses to constantly monitor workers’ temperatures.
Sundays River Citrus Company CEO Hannes de Waal said it was closely monitoring international markets.
“There are a lot of international customers who come to us during this time of the year and we issued a notice last week preventing them because we did not want to bring people who might potentially be infected and then have to quarantine our workers.
“We’ll only know in the winter whether we’re affected or not, and how much if we are,” De Waal said.
He said Italy was an important market for the citrus industry and the fact that the the country was at a standstill was a concern.
De Waal said the company was packing stock early.
“Retailers need food on their shelves because of the high demand and they need to keep up with it. Markets are under pressure,” he said.
De Waal said there were no import bans in countries to which the company exported but there were bottlenecks in terms of able bodies at ports to unpack the produce when it arrived.
The country’s R1.5bn mohair industry has not seen losses yet, with Mohair SA encouraging farmers to continue business as normal.
Mohair SA spokesperson Riaan Marais said though it had not yet seen any adverse impact it was expecting to see some fluctuations on the short- and medium-term markets.
“Although exports have not been banned, two of the worst-hit countries — China and Italy — are our biggest export markets so we anticipate this to play a role in the markets.
“At this stage, it is difficult to say how quickly it will trickle down the value chain and how big an effect it will have on our mohair producers [farmers].”
Marais said Mohair SA did not at this stage expect huge financial losses or a negative impact on jobs.
“We will, however, monitor the situation but in the short term, there appears to be no impact on jobs.
“The safest place for them [workers] is on the farms, limiting contact with anyone from major city centres.”
Agricultural economist Wandile Sihlobo said the horticulture industry, wine and grain faced the possibility of slow demand.
He said SA exported about 50% of what it produced and, with the country coming off a good harvest, there could be low demand in Europe and Asia.
“Any disruptions in Asia and Europe could definitely have a negative effect on our side,” Sihlobo said.
“The readiness of the domestic food supply chains will perhaps be the ones to be tested in the coming weeks if panic-buying continues.
“Essentially panic-buying, while understandably caused by the extreme times we live in, could cause more disruptions in the food supply.”