We focus on disruptions in shipping as Covid-19 continues to disrupt exports, as well as some othe industry news in South Africa

Western Cape Minister calls time on the port problems in Cape Town

South Africa’s Minister of Public Enterprises asked to intervene in port of Cape Town

The announcement that shipping lines are cancelling calls at the port of Cape Town or implementing a Cape Town congestion surcharge from July, and that large volumes of citrus and other exports are being redirected to Eastern Cape ports to ensure continuity in supply to markets, in now reverberating at provincial and national government level.

The Western Cape Minister of Finance and Economic Opportunities, David Maynier, said “we cannot go on like this, and so I have written to the Minister of Public Enterprises, Pravin Gordhan, requesting a meeting with himself and the Transnet management team to discuss interventions to address the challenges in the Port of Cape Town.  “The efficient and effective performance of the Port of Cape Town is critical to economic recovery and growth for the Western Cape.  We are very concerned about the operational issues currently being experienced at the Port of Cape Town”” he says.

“With the announcement that three shipping lines are cancelling calls to Cape Town or implementing a Cape Town congestion surcharge from July, and that large volumes of citrus exports are being redirected to Eastern Cape ports to ensure continuity in supply to markets, it is clear that urgency and resources are needed if we are to resolve the current operational issues at the Port of Cape Town.,” he says.

Shipping sources confirm changes on South African schedules because of Covid-19

Exclusion of port of Cape Town on normal shipping schedules to Europe seen as positive step

Sources in shipping circles have confirmed that the main European continental services on the normal Europe South African service are now by-passing Cape Town because of the delays experienced in the port. At least one of the shipping companies say that by including Cape Town in its other schedules they are possibly being able to offer a better service to South African exporters.

The exports of apples and pear, as well as citrus fruit, have been disrupted by delays in South African ports from the start of the peak export season. In his latest logistical report the CGA’s Mitchell Brooke gave an overview with how exports have been going over the past three months. He says the decision by the shipping lines to by-pass Cape Town and include the port in some of their other services is deemed a much more conducive measure to keep the supply of citrus consistent.

“Durban, Ngqura and Port Elizabeth ports are operating as well as can be expected under COVID-19 circumstances. Cape Town port is improving – but will take some time to deal with the backlog,” he says.

Mike Economo, veteran executive at MSC, confirmed that the company has included Cape Town as the most Southern port of call on its schedule along the west coast of Africa. “We believe we are providing a very effective service on this route to as far as St Petersburg while at the same time eliminating delays on the other South African schedules. It is to the advantage for the South African industry.”

Blue berry supplier sees big challenges for coming season

Marketer says there are great opportunities for South African berries

C fruit, a relative newcomer to the berry export business from South Africa, says access to enough airfreight and alternative routes by sea to major markets will be a massive challenge this season.

“We are going to have to very carefully plan and make contingencies for all eventualities until there is more certainty on this front,” says Chirene Jelbert, Chief Executive Officer. “C fruit was founded in 2017, when Jelbert saw an opportunity amongst the major berry industry role players to assist growers who tried to diversify from other crops and who lacked marketing experience, support, infrastructure and opportunities to market their fruit.

Jelbert says C fruit has grown into a multifaceted business that grows, packs and distributes fresh, frozen and dried berries throughout the world. “Because our focus has remained berries and we market the grower’s entire crop, we believe we can deliver more value and deliver desired returns to our growers. This enables them to look after their staff, grow their projects and derive more benefit from their extraordinary amount of dedication, resources and the time they commit.”

“We have had to think out of the box during Covid-19 to offer support to our growers and some clients with an online offering. But our core business remains growing, packing and the distribution of fresh, frozen and dried berries throughout the world.”

Her warning about the challenges for the season comes at a time when berry growers in the north of the country have started packing for the new season. The South African berry production has been growing rapidly in recent years and there are exciting opportunities ahead.

Cambria is set to take South African navel oranges to a new level

Navel with distinctive Celtic connections make waves in South Africa

A late navel orange which was discovered in the remote Cambria region in the Eastern Cape is likely to be the next big thing in South African citrus exports. It was discovered in a valley surrounded by mountains virtually at the entrance to the Baviaanskloof Nature Reserve, one of South Africa’s best-known wilderness areas. It lies on the banks of the Gamtoos River in the well-known citrus growing region of the same name in the Eastern Cape.

Late navels has been popular with citrus growers because it stretches the season. In the past some late varieties have been imported, but Cambria, and another local variety, Witkrans, have now entered the arena as the clear favourites with growers.

The Cambria navel have a clear linkage with Wales in the United Kingdom. The name Cambria comes from the same root as Cymry, the Welsh word meaning “fellow-countrymen”. Cymru is the Welsh name for Wales.  The region was named by a Welshman who was one of the early inhabitants and it reveals the late navel’s Celtic connections. The Cambria regions in Wales must not be confused with Cumbria in the Lakes District in England.

Covid-19 disrupts old traditions for South African citrus industry

It will be a quiet 4-th of July in Citrusdal in the Cape

America’s Independence Day on 4 July has always had a special place in the lives of the South African growers who annually ship their citrus fruit to the United States. This day normally marks the real start of the Summer Citrus from South Africa campaign which was launched in the early 2000’s and has been an extremely successful market development programme.

With the development of this campaign, even before it started, another tradition of exchange between South Africa and the USA, and the US importers and trade became part of the export programme. From the start of the South African season inspectors from the USDA travelled to South Africa to inspect the fruit before it is shipped from Cape Town. Over time a good number of them visited the Cape and also enjoyed the company of the local citrus industry.

At the same time growers from South Africa also travelled to Philadelphia, the discharge port of South African citrus, where they spent three weeks at a time to assist the importers and trade and to give real time information to their fellow growers back home. Industry leaders such as the late Gerrit van der Merwe and Piet Smit, were the originators of the programme. Both of them also spent time “working” in Philadelphia and became very well-known figures in the US fresh produce business. This year, for the first time, this exchange has been interrupted. The South African authorities and their US counterparts had to make emergency plans for the inspection and clearing programme to continue, while the South African growers will this year stay at home.

At Karnemelksvlei near Citrusdal, ancestral home of the Van der Merwe family, the 4-th of July has not been the same since the untimely death of Gerrit van der Merwe some two years ago. Until then Gerrit would every year call his fellow growers together under the giant oak tree next to the homestead – for their own 4-th of July celebrations.  The close alignment between the South Africans and their customers has undoubtedly contributed to the success of the Summer Citrus programme. From the cooperation between the South African citrus growers a joint reefer shipping programme was developed which has been very successful.

In the time of Covid-19, with most exporters suffering major delays in their shipping programme, the US citrus programme remains on schedule. The US vessels are loaded at the old fruit terminal in Cape Town directly from cold stores in the interior. The quay is privately operated. Back on the farms, in the Citrusdal Valley where the biggest proportion of the fruit is grown, Covid-19 infections have been low, mainly due to rigorous enforcement of health rules. “It is like a military operation,” says one grower, “but we have been managing to keep things on track.”

The South African growers exporting to the USA say they have a bumper crop of excellent quality fruit. “We have so much to be thankful for,” says senior grower Johan Mouton. “We just have to manage ourselves throughout this season.”