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Northern Cape producers turn away from pomegranates

'Wonderful' harvest improves pomegranate season in South Africa

The South African pomegranate season is looking up with the harvest of the Wonderful variety, which is providing bigger fruit than the earlier varieties (Akko and Hershkovitz). These varieties’ fruit was substantially smaller than usual due to the drought, putting pressure on the prices attained on export markets. 

According to Brent Geddes of Pomona, speaking at the beginning of this month to South African media, exporters were seeing a strong reduction in prices: R35 [€2.5] per kg versus R48 [€3.5] per kg a year ago. The strengthening of the local currency also affected trade.

It is the second week of Wonderful packing and exporters are expecting that prices will pick up in its biggest market, the EU, as well as the Middle East, the Far East, and with a bit going to Russia, which prefers large sizes (counts 6 and 8). As for the other big market, the UK (which takes smaller sized pomegranates as well), it is harder for exporters to make up for the weakening of the Pound against the Rand in real terms. 

“It’s still early but the sizing on Wonderful looks more promising. The season will go on until the end of April, perhaps a little bit earlier,” says Niel Smith of Sapex, one of the largest exporters of pomegranates. “The early varieties are just about finished, and marketing the smaller fruit has been challenging. Demand for larger sizes are much stronger and pricing will be higher.”

Corefruit markets only the Wonderful variety to those same markets. Rouxan Jansen van Rensburg says that their growers are in the Northern Cape whose season is a bit earlier than the Western Cape. “We aim to get our fruit to the markets before Peru starts sending their large volumes. There was a little bit of unseasonal rain in our production area, with some quality concerns, but we’ve always been very happy with the fruit we get from our Northern Cape producers.” Their producers focus exclusively on pomegranates. Fruit not fulfilling the specifications to be marketed as fresh fruit are sent for overseas processing.

The Western Cape is responsible for 70% of South Africa’s pomegranate production. In recent years there was an expansion of pomegranate production in the arid Northern Cape. However, a number of Northern Cape pomegranate producers, like the Karsten Group, have discontinued pomegranate farming. 

“We have to account for every litre of water we use and I don’t think pomegranates justify the input costs in our area,” says André Spangenberg of Groenheuwel Boerdery, at Augrabies. “The fruit are burned by the sun but when you put up netting, production goes down. Moist air shouldn’t even come close to the pomegranates or they just burst open. Another thing is that pomegranates attract false codling moth and I farm citrus organically, so to me that is a big problem. Many growers in this area have taken out their pomegranates. I will market my harvest this year but I don’t know how much longer I’m going to grow them.”

Marketing opportunities for pomegranates on the local market are limited and the fruit is seen as a niche product. “There is a need to popularise pomegranates as a fresh fruit among South African consumers. People eat it in restaurants but it’s not often bought for home use. However, its health value works in its favour,” says Sapex’s Niel Smith.

For more information:
Niel Smith
Tel: +27 21 883 8280

Rouxan Jansen van Rensburg
Tel: +27 863 6300

André Spangenberg
Groenheuwel Boerdery
Tel: +27 54 451 7254