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Southern African pineapple production to rebound after drought
The Hluhluwe region of northern KwaZulu-Natal, the largest production area of Queen pineapples for fresh consumption in South Africa, has experienced the worst drought in 105 years over the past three years. Johannes Meyer, chairperson of the Hluhluwe Pineapple Marketing Association, says the industry is hoping that yields will rebound after good recent rains, even though local dams are still at low levels.
Credit: Mazuri Pynappels
The Queen Victoria pineapple, one of the sweetest pineapples, but not bred for a long shelf life, is the main cultivar grown in KwaZulu-Natal. Due to its perishability, approximately 90% of production is for local consumption. Meyer says that informal trade doesn’t make up a significant proportion of the pineapple trade.
Annual production in this area is about 4.8 million 8kg cartons produced on 800ha. “When we export, it’s perhaps 10% of our production which all has to be flown to export markets which of course pushes up the price. We can’t compete with pineapple producers closer to the markets, who can send their pineapples by sea,” explains Meyer.
“People have tried growing pineapples in many different places, but we’re fortunate that we’re close to the sea. Even when we’ve gone a month without rain, dew from the Indian Ocean fills the cups of the pineapples. All of our production is done under dryland conditions,” says Meyer. Harvesting occurs year-round, with some fluctuations according to climatic conditions.
Some growers in Hluhluwe, like Cobus Oosthuizen of Mazuri Pynappels, export a larger proportion of their crop to the EU and the UK, the Middle East and Canada, all by air, but the bulk is still destined for local markets or retailers.
In the Eastern Cape a different cultivar is grown, the larger Cayenne, used mostly for juicing. According to Bruce Venters of the Pineapple Growers’ Association that represents 23 growers in the Eastern Cape and Swaziland, the current production is at 75 000t annually with expansion plans to increase production to 100 000t. "Annual plantings are in the region of 930ha meaning that the harvest is off around 1 860ha and around 1 860ha are in a growth phase. The Eastern Cape is the area furthest away from the equator, in the world, where pineapples are cultivated. The warm Indian Ocean current and the fact that here we experience an overlap of winter and summer rainfall, about 630mm annually, makes the area suitable for pineapples.”
About 90% of the Eastern Cape’s production is sent to Summerpride Foods which processes it into pineapple juice concentrate, of which 85% is exported. Interestingly, their biggest export market is South America, which accounts for 38% of total sales. “Brazil consumes most of their own produce fresh, and they cultivate a variety with whiter flesh than Cayenne. We’ve had a long relationship with South America,” says Pierre Tilney, director at Summerpride. The juice concentrate is also sent to the EU and Russia.
Pineapple is grown in Swaziland by the Rhodes Food Group for canning purposes. According to Sabelo Mkhwanazi, operations manager at the Rhodes Food Group in the Malkerns Valley where production is concentrated, production is 23 000t per year from 229ha under production. “Drought has badly affected the harvest, by as much as 30%. The industry is currently not as big as we’d like.”
Unlike the Queen pineapples from KwaZulu-Natal, there is a break in pineapple harvesting in the Eastern Cape from mid-December to mid-February, for maintenance and repairs of the processing facilities.
Pineapples are a very labour-intensive crop in South Africa: all stages of the production process are done by hand. It has been found that planting by hand is still quicker than planting young pineapple plants by machine; harvesting occurs year-round, also by hand. The pineapple industry is therefore a major employer in this part of South Africa.
For more information:
Tel: +27 82 945 7296
Tel: +27 82 458 7057
Pineapple Growers’ Association
Tel: +27 46 625 0515
Tel: +27 43 700 6699
Rhodes Food Group
Tel: +268 2 528 3001
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