Major retailers aim to support local product

South African ginger competes with Chinese imports

South African ginger is harvested from May until November. Some farmers keep the tubers in the soil for the end of the season (until before the start of summer rains) when prices rise. The main production area is around Hazyview and Kiepersol, Mpumalanga Province, where ginger is sometimes used as an intercrop in young macadamia orchards.

At the moment “beautiful, A-grade” local ginger obtain between R35 (2.26 euros) and R40 (2.58 euros) per kg, while offcuts are sold at around R15 (0.96 euros) to R20 (1.29 euros) per kg. The export market for South African ginger has long since dwindled in the face of the Chinese ginger industry, and in the off season of November to February, ginger imported from China supplements stock.

Opinions differ regarding how locally produced ginger compares to Chinese ginger. One market agent calls Chinese ginger “brilliant”. “The quality is much better, it’s unbelievable – like brown gold. It’s the best of the best.” According to him, Chinese ginger has more flesh and a thinner skin than local ginger. “Local ginger gives you 5kg flesh and 5kg skin from 10kg ginger, while with Chinese ginger you get 9kg flesh from 10kg ginger.”

Not all agree. Another market agent, also at Johannesburg municipal market, says: “At this time of the year local ginger is better than imported ginger and both obtain the same price, around R40 [2.58 euros] per kg. I have buyers who rather buy local ginger this time of the year than imported ginger.” He adds that the quality of local ginger is very good this year.

At the Durban market, Sumaya Razak of Wenpro feels that South African ginger can compete with imported ginger, if good quality, clean hands of ginger are carefully graded and delivered to market as soon as possible.

“We ask farmers to send us fresh amounts every week because people buy with their eyes. The ginger we get from Hazyview is very clean. You find that ginger from elsewhere in the country can be dry and sandy, sometimes stained red by soil, but it seems like the soil type and climate of Hazyview is really good for ginger cultivation.”

She deals with a lot of ginger, around a hundred boxes a week, particularly when the garlic season starts.

Major retailer: "We stock 95% local ginger"
Retailers stock local ginger, even during the technical import window of November to February, when some still prefer South African product (southern KwaZulu-Natal can produce ginger out of season).

“We don’t want to import ginger, we do everything in our power not to import ginger because it’s more expensive and priced in US Dollar, plus nine times out of ten product from China has to be irradiated. We stock 95% local ginger and when it’s fresh, quality is comparable to Chinese ginger,” says the head vegetable procurement officer of a major retailer. The sentiment is echoed at another upmarket retailer with a strong fresh produce sector which stocks only South African-produced ginger.

There is also small-scale production of turmeric, described as an easier crop to cultivate than ginger, but still small demand. At some of the municipal markets were fresh turmeric tubers are sold, the crop is displayed in locked cages to prevent theft. The consumer, generally, considers turmeric as more of a health food product than a foodstuff.

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