Gerhard Meyer transformed the farm he inherited near Oudtshoorn, Klein Karoo in 2008 by building a dam to store his water allocation. He also installed a desalination plant to make the water more suitable for fruit production and converted 15ha of lucerne under flood irrigation to 40ha of pomegranate under drip irrigation.

Since then, he has established an independent pomegranate brand that will enable other farmers to cash in on production of this crop in the Klein Karoo reports

“Pomegranates present the best return on investment in terms of land and water usage of all crops in this part of the Klein Karoo. The yield per litre of water is second to none,” says Meyer.

“Establishing a pomegranate industry here will breathe new life into the job market. The Oudtshoorn area is currently sitting with an unemployment rate of 80%. Many jobs were lost when local farmers downscaled because of the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, avian influenza, and the onset of the drought about seven years ago.

There was already a growing demand for pomegranates, thanks to its reputation as a ‘superfood’. These fruits, explains Meyer, are packed with antioxidants, fibre, vitamins, minerals and other nutrients that are reputed to prevent certain types of disease.

Another advantage of pomegranates lies in pricing. The Southern Hemisphere accounts for a mere 5% of global production, with Peru contributing the most to this figure. This undersupply has a major impact on prices, with pomegranates from the Southern Hemisphere selling for R25 000/t to R28 000/t, in comparison with about R14 000/t for fruit sold during the high season of the Northern Hemisphere, according to Meyer.

The Wonderful variety planted in Oudtshoorn usually ripens from the end of February to mid-March, and gets to retail shelves overseas when they are still relatively empty.

Iran is the world’s third-largest producer of pomegranates, but imports about 61 000t of the fruit annually. South Africa, however, currently exports only about 6 300t of pomegranates a year, according to the Pomegranate Producers‘ Association of South Africa.

Meyer adds that increasing production would be unlikely to change the Southern Hemisphere’s price advantage. This is firstly because areas that have an arid climate, yet have available irrigation, like Oudtshoorn, are not easily found, and secondly, because high labour costs internationally are holding back expansion.