SA citrus jobs hang on European talks

The future of about 60 000 people employed by the citrus industry depends on the outcome of the European Commission talks over the issue of citrus black spot (CBS).

An unfavourable decision on the citrus trade, which is worth about R4 billion, will not only hurt the economy, but will result in jobs cuts and maybe an oversupply of citrus fruits in the country.

According to the Citrus Growers Association, CBS is a difficult fungus to identify at harvesting and packing. The latent infection develops as the fruit ripens and sometimes becomes visible a few weeks after being packed.

The local citrus industry has responded to the EU concerns with a comprehensive CBS risk management system. The system, which cost citrus growers dearly, was initiated by the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries with citrus growers in 2004.

According to the association, the system has seen a dramatic reduction in interceptions, which are now less than 0.3 percent of consignments shipped to Europe.

CBS has a definite window of infection, which is between October and January. In this period, growers have to ensure that orchards are thoroughly inspected.

Growers have taken ownership of the situation and make sure that orchards suspected of having CBS are withdrawn from the EU export programme.

So far 1 100 orchards have been withdrawn compared with 102 orchards last year. In every packhouse, the department has assigned an inspector and further inspections are done in the packline.

The industry has also made a concerted effort to visit citrus-producing countries in Europe to get a better understanding of their concerns.

Meanwhile, it is believed that the European market has been very tough, characterised by a lot of small oranges of indifferent quality.


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