A delegation from the Citrus Growers Association of Southern Africa and the crew of the MV Cool Eagle after it berthed at Durban harbour to load a shipment of citrus fruit headed for Europe and Russia. Picture: Supplied.
A delegation from the Citrus Growers Association of Southern Africa and the crew of the MV Cool Eagle after it berthed at Durban harbour to load a shipment of citrus fruit headed for Europe and Russia. Picture: Supplied.

SA citrus export industry gets a boost as Covid-19 creates demand for vitamin C products

By Vernon Mchunu Time of article published May 18, 2021

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DURBAN - THE already booming citrus export industry has received another boost with the arrival of the specialised MV Cool Eagle, which berthed in Durban harbour to load up an estimated 1.2 million cartons of citrus fruit.

With the Covid-19 pandemic continuing to wreak havoc across the globe, there was a high demand for vitamin C products to boost immunity, and this had triggered a relative spike in demand for the cheaper SA citrus production.

Describing the vessel as the world’s largest specialist reefer ship and a first for South Africa, Mitchell Brooke, the Logistics Development Manager for the Citrus Growers Association of Southern Africa, said it was the high export demand for local citrus that had led to the ship being chartered by Reefer Alliance.

“MV Cool Eagle has arrived in order to meet increasing export demand of SA’s citrus produce,” said Brooke.

“Citrus growers are expected to export a record breaking 163 million cartons of citrus during the 2021 export season, translating into more job opportunities, foreign exchange revenue and will contribute towards the national government’s goal of increased agricultural exports over the next few years,” he said.

The exports were expected to spike by a further 500 000 tons over the next three to five years, he added.

“It is therefore critical that the entire logistics chain is able to support this growth with specialised reefer ships playing a critical role. Last year’s export season saw a 33% increase in citrus shipments on specialised reefer vessels,” Brooke said.

Professor Irrshad Kaseeram, a senior economics lecturer at the University of Zululand, said: “There has been a huge increase in demand for vitamin C products to boost immunity in the face of the global Covid-19 pandemic.”

“South Africa’s quality produce and competitive prices, partly due to an undervalued exchange rate, will ensure that demand will continue to be robust,” Kaseeram said, adding that the citrus industry would not have been hardest hit by the lockdowns since the trees were already there, only needing to be pruned, something that could be easily done without violating safety protocols.

Brooke hailed the use of the specialised ships as, he said, they typically arrived at export markets in Europe a week or two ahead of container vessels.

The speed, therefore, guaranteed better quality fruit reaching key markets, which again helped SA growers achieve greater market access in the future, he said.

“The MV Cool Eagle is one of a series of five ships that are the largest specialised reefer vessels in the world. This is the first time one of these new generation reefer ships has visited SA and is thus a truly historic moment for the citrus industry and the country as a whole.

“The vessel is built to carry roughly 6,000 high cube pallets of citrus in 342 reefer containers on deck and 7,200 high cube pallets below deck. This equates to 1.2 million cartons of citrus. The citrus will be transported to other export markets in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, and St. Petersburg in Russia,” he said, and adding the MV Cool Eagle visit would be followed closely by her sister MV Cool Spirit.

“With the citrus industry already supporting 120 000 jobs, the association looks forward to working with all its partners during the upcoming season in order to achieve another record year,” Brooke said.

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