Worker of Zebediela Citrus Farm in Limpopo packaging oranges ready for the market Pic:Nonhlanhla Kambule-Makgati

Durban - Local citrus growers will know today whether their efforts to prevent citrus black spot are enough to please the fussy EU market.

The fate of citrus exports worth about R4 billion has been hanging in the balance since last year following the detection of citrus black spot, a fungal disease that is endemic to South Africa but unable to survive in Europe.

South Africa was, after Spain and Turkey, the largest citrus exporter to world markets in 2012.

Earlier this year, the European Food Safety Authority revised its risk assessment on citrus black spot and found there was some risk associated with imports from South Africa. The authority recommended the EU regulations should be retained and compliance should be enforced.

Deon Joubert, the special envoy on market access and EU matters at the Citrus Growers Association, said yesterday that South Africa was presenting its case to the European Commission and that a standing committee on plant health would make its decision today.

Joubert denied earlier reports by other media that the European Commission was proposing to drop its ban on local citrus exports.

He stressed that there never had been a ban on South Africa’s citrus exports and if there was one, “it was only symbolic and not practical”.

Joubert said the discussions taking place in Europe now were in fact on what regime or set of rules South Africa would adopt for its exports this year.

“So the discussion today is a typical discussion, on what would be the regime or import arrangement for 2014. There was a ban last year but it was more symbolic,” he said.

However, earlier speculation suggested that the European Commission might drop the ban on South African produce, which could be reimposed.

The media report further stated that the commission would impose a ban should black spot disease be found in five different shipments from South Africa, a situation growers could not afford, according to Joubert.

He stressed that, together with the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, local growers had over the past year worked tirelessly to prevent the fungal disease.

He had canvassed the association’s preventative measures with Spanish growers and its agriculture ministry, as well as other stakeholders.

“They seemed to be impressed that these measures were scientifically sound and practical and a lot of these suggestions and proposals have been introduced to the local citrus black spot risk management system under which we export.”

Measures included cleaning up water and spraying for black spot which killed the fungus before it settled.

The third measure, Joubert said, was to make sure that no packaged products had black spot on them.

Justin Chadwick, the chief executive of the Citrus Growers Association, was comforted by the fact that more growers were able to withdraw produce from suspected orchards destined for the EU.

“To date in 2014, over 1 100 orchards had been withdrawn as a proactive step to reducing the likelihood of interceptions compared to 102 orchards last year,” he said.

Chadwick’s initial estimates indicate that 2014 will be a bumper crop for the local citrus industry.

Citrus growers are expected to export about 1.7 million tons this year.

The first South African citrus to hit overseas shelves are Satsumas and the country has already packed half of the 1.7 million carton destined for the UK and northern European markets.


Fast Facts

- South Africa exports about 650 000 tons of citrus fruit to the EU every year, worth about R4 billion.

- The industry employs about 60 000 people and supports about 100 000 temporary jobs.

- The European Commission imposed a “symbolic” ban on SA exports in November after citrus black spot disease was detected.

- The ban was lifted in January, with stricter conditions put in place to prevent citrus black spot disease.