SOUTH Africa is set to earn at least R325 million in new export revenue following the finalisation of a citrus protocol between the country and China.
The Citrus Growers Association (CGA) said yesterday that the venture would see South Africa generating 800 jobs in an industry where employment declined 8 percent year-on-year in the first quarter.
The association said the revised protocol was six years in the making, following a request by the industry to exempt lemons from the current regulatory requirements for false codling moth.
The CGA’s chief executive, Justin Chadwick, said that Argentina and Chile had dominated lemon exports from the southern hemisphere to China.
Chadwick said once the protocol was in place, South Africa would surpass both countries, exporting 25 000 tons of lemons to China by 2024.
Local lemon production was expected to grow by 175 000 metric tons by 2024.
“The citrus industry has already enjoyed phenomenal export growth to China in recent years, with shipments of grapefruit, orange and soft citrus reaching 130 000 metric tons in 2020.”
First National Bank’s senior agricultural economist, Paul Makube, said South Africa harvested 619 522 tons of citrus last year, 68 percent of which was destined for export markets.
Makube said production had accelerated 149 percent since 2011.
He said the opening of the Chinese market would help to absorb the expected volumes and encourage farmers to increase their hectarage, and create job opportunities.
Makube said although China ranked first in world fresh citrus production, at 37.74 tons (2019/20), the country did not feature among the top 10 world exporters, and it was the seventh-largest citrus importer.
“South Africa’s traditional market includes 36 percent exports to Europe, 17 percent to the Middle East, 13 percent for South East Asia, 6 percent Asia, 8 percent to the Russian Federation, and North America and the UK at 10 percent,” he said.
“In the case of lemons, its main destinations in 2020 were the Middle East at 35 percent, Europe at 34 percent, South East Asia at 9 percent, Russia at 9 percent, North America at 5 percent, the UK at 7 percent, and others accounting for only 2 percent.”
The milestone protocol with China follows the recent first shipment of South African citrus to the Philippines, with estimated export earnings of R205m annually.
The National Agriculture Marketing Council’s chief economist, Dr Sifiso Ntombela, said citrus and lemon farming, in particular, was an export-oriented sector that relied on the availability of and access to export markets for production growth.
Ntombela said: “The signing of the new protocol will improve access to Chinese market and ignite new production investment at the local level, implying new job opportunities.”