The South African agriculture sector has increased its trade surplus by 16% in the first quarter of 2020, with minimal disruptions experienced due to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic.
This was according to Wandile Sihlobo, chief economist at Agbiz, who said the disruptions had been minimal because agriculture and the food sector in general had remained operational across the globe.
In the first quarter of the year, which is the period before the [COVID-19) lockdowns were implemented across the globe, South Africa’s agricultural trade was vibrant. The country recorded an agricultural trade surplus of US$773 million (about R13,2 billion). This is up 16% year-on-year, with exports having increased at a much higher rate than imports.”
Sihlobo added that current exports consisted of grapes, maize, wine, wool, pears, apples, plums, lemons and macadamia nuts, among other agricultural products. “We expect these products to continue underpinning South Africa’s agricultural exports in the second quarter of 2020, but with some decline in wine exports, which had briefly been impacted by domestic lockdown regulations.”
He said citrus would feature prominently from the second quarter onwards, as exports for this year were expected to reach a record 143,3 million cartons for the Southern Africa region.
Dr Sifiso Ntombela, senior agricultural economist at the National Agricultural Marketing Council, said trade statistics released by the South African Revenue Service for January to April, showed the country’s total trade balance for all sectors was minus R326,97 million, with exports down 3,5% compared with the corresponding period last year.
“The decline in exports was led by the minerals and precious stone [sectors], as mining operations and exports were affected by the COVID-19 crisis in the first quarter of 2020.”
Sector performs relatively well
However, Ntombela said in terms of agriculture, the sector performed relatively well despite the pandemic. “From January to April, [the exports of] live animals and animal products were up 9,8%; vegetable and fruit [exports] were up 35,7%; [and] fats and oil products were up 20,8%. Processed food exports were down 4,2% compared with the corresponding period in the previous year.”
He said that during the same time, the imports of vegetables and fruit products, as well as fats and oils, were up by an average of 34% compared with the first quarter of 2019. “The trade statistics indicate that the South African agriculture sector was minimally affected by the COVID-19 lockdown, with the exception of industries such as wine, wool and cotton.”