It is true that COVID-19 has disrupted many South African industries. However, the citrus industry in that nation has emerged resilient, with strong demand in export markets and strong potential beyond the crisis.
To tap this growth potential requires complementary public investment in ports and irrigation infrastructure, and technical capacity to negotiate access to wider export markets on favourable conditions.
Demand for citrus in international markets has boomed due to COVID-19 and prices have increased. European prices for South African oranges in May 2020 were 7%-15% higher than a year earlier in euro terms, or around 40% higher in rand terms. The volume of citrus exports from South Africa also grew amid the crisis. They more than doubled in the first four months of 2020 compared to the previous year, accelerating on the long term growth trend.
As is clear from the Citrus Growers’ Association membership, the industry is made up of established white commercial farmers who grow for the export market and a smaller number of small and medium-sized black growers.
The association established a subsidiary body, the Citrus Growers Development Company, in 2003 to support the small and medium-sized black growers and drive transformation in the industry. These smaller growers accounted for 9% of the total 88,569 hectares planted by citrus growers in 2019. Similarly, of the 1,022,948 tonnes of citrus exported in 2019, small and medium-sized growers contributed 8% to the total.
According to an article on theconversation.com, increases in the production and exports of small and medium growers could boost foreign exchange earnings and create jobs in an industry which already directly employs about 125,000 workers, around 14% of total employment in agriculture.