Despite Cape drought, figs show improvement on last year

Figs from Uitkijk Farm, north of Paarl in the Western Cape, performed better than last year, despite this being the third year of below average rainfall in the Cape.

Photo supplied by Uitkijk Farm

Packouts of their fig harvest, which winds down this week, were better and fruit were larger. “The figs are continually improving and it is a function of experience that we’re gaining in fig production and a refinement in management, particularly with regard to our cultivars, as well as a function of the maturing of the trees. There were been fewer wind marks on fruit this season because of the wider canopy which provides more protection,” says Jan Eksteen, production manager at Uitkijk Farm, home of South Africa’s only festival devoted to figs, annually held in March. Wine grapes and citrus are also grown on the family farm. 

The figs are grown on clay, whose higher moisture holding ability has been an advantage during these dry years, as figs have a shallow root system, but in another sense it has highlighted what is an increasing problem in the Western Cape: in the absence of sufficient winter rainfall to flush water systems, salts are building up in the soil. At Uitkijk Farm they make use of soil bacteria to combat the problem. “After three dry years, salt is rising up in the soil and it’s another of the things we have had to learn to finely manage during the current drought.” 

Uitkijk Farm hosts an annual fig festival in summer, the only of its kind in the country (photo supplied by Uitkijk Farm)

In line with other fig producers, their local-export split is roughly fifty-fifty, leaning a bit towards the domestic side, marketed through an agent at South Africa’s major retailers. Outside the country, approximately 20t of figs are sent widely. South African producers have managed to retain traditional markets like the UK and Europe (particularly Germany) while also finding traction in the Far East, Middle East and Canada.

Like many in the South African industry, most of their figs are the old variety of Bourjassotte Noire (locally called ‘Parisian’ or ‘Evita’). 

“We are looking at expansion of the fig production side of our farm, for instance with some new cultivars that will come into production next year,” Jan says, “but it’s a tricky product, it is very perishable. All of our export fruit are flown out. Improvements in cold chain technology have contributed to the industry but South Africa has been exporting figs for a while. Perhaps there is a bit more awareness among those in the cold chain that they’re dealing with a very delicate fruit, and we’re learning a lot on the management side.”

Uitkijk Farm north of Paarl, Western Cape (photo supplied by Uitkijk Farm)

For more information:
Jan Eksteen
Uitkijk Farm
Tel: +27 82 328 4372

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