South Africa’s agricultural exporters averted a Covid disaster

Some quick thinking and rapid adjustments achieved by South Africa’s agricultural industry meant that several agricultural products were not only able to survive, but also thrive. When the first cases of Covid-19 were announced in early March may have come as a surprise to those businesses not dealing in export markets. But for companies that rely on global shipping channels, like those in the country’s agricultural industry, the impact was felt weeks before.

Rory Netterville, supply-chain manager at Zest Fruit: “A lot of the containers we were planning to use got stuck in the Far East because of rising Covid-19 infections there, as early as February. Many of these ports in the East are serious hubs for import and export, and a lot of the shipping lines’ containers couldn’t get in or out of there.”

These delays had an immediate knock-on effect for the local citrus industry, which had to rapidly reconsider how they would ship their imminent harvests around the world.

One quick change came in how exactly these products were shipped. Under normal circumstances, companies like Zest would use refrigerated containers, also called reefer containers, to ship their products, but with these specialised containers unable to leave Covid-19-ravaged ports in the Far East, they quickly changed their strategy.

‘We had to diversify and use other options. For example, if you could ship your product in a bulk ship, where you load pallets without containers, you did that,’ says Netterville.

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