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Kat River Citrus

Citrus Black Spot, a cause for concern


Citrus Black Spot, a cause for concern? Editorial: Lauren Grey Production: James Clark

Home to one of the oldest and most advanced pack houses in Africa, Kat River Citrus has been exporting citrus fruit to Europe for almost 100 years. However, recent detections of Citrus Black Spot found in some South African fruit is threatening the country’s export opportunities and causing ‘expensive and harsh restrictions’ for its agricultural industry.

Kat River Citrus is situated in the area of Fort Beaufort in the Eastern Cape, on a site that has been farmed for citrus fruit since the early 1900’s; the cooperative was formally established in 1921, after the original farmers saw it in their best interests to pick and pack fruit as one entity. “To this day we still only have a small group of farmers,” explains Chairman, Jock Danckwerts, “so it makes sense to continue to operate as a cooperative. By doing so the cost of expansion is shared amongst all, and if a member leaves he can’t sell his shares to someone else, so we keep the capital within the company. It works very well.” Each of the farms supply fruit to the pack house as part of their obligation to the cooperative, despite being a cooperative however, the business operates as a private


entity in which its members have 100% ownership. The cooperative employs between two and three permanent staff members per ten hectares of cultivated land and there are 1000 hectares of land altogether with upward of 3000 pickers during harvest season; a further 35 members of staff are employed to work at the pack house, with an additional 1000 temporary staff in season. “The pack house is situated at the site of one of Africa’s very first pack houses, obviously the building has been re-built and we use much more modern technology than before, but historically we are one of the oldest packaging operations in South Africa,” says Danckwerts. Despite being one of the country’s oldest packaging operations, Kat River Citrus ensures that it stays up-todate with technological advancements in the industry, and boasts one of South Africa’s most sophisticated packaging lines, which has now been running for two seasons.

Kat River Citrus

EXPORT MARKETS One of the cooperative’s recent transformations has been its diversification into the export of soft citrus fruit and lemons, moving away from its traditional production of oranges. “Historically we began by growing oranges, which grow very well in this area; we also started planting lemons in the 70’s, and by 1980 we started to diversify into soft citrus, but this has really taken off over the past ten years or so,” says Danckwerts. “We have moved away from oranges to soft citrus and lemons, to the extent that in five years time between 60-70% of our production will be entirely soft citrus fruits.” Kat River export mainly to the UK and Europe, with the UK being its most important market for soft citrus fruits, but the cooperative has also been forced to diversify substantially into other parts of the world, “Eastern Europe and Russia have become very important to us, as has the Middle East,

although they only take hard citrus. However, the biggest change in the last year has been an increase in volumes into the Pacific Rim countries, including Hong Kong, Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia,” explains Danckwerts.

CITRUS BLACK SPOT Since its establishment, Kat River Citrus has expanded into new markets and diversified its product offerings at a fairly organic pace, choosing when and how to develop as a business. However, the cooperative’s recent venture into markets such as Russia and the Pacific Rim is a result of a more sinister and threatening situation caused by a cosmetic defect found in some South African fruit, known a Citrus Black Spot (CBS). CBS is caused by fungal pathogens which infect citrus plants and leave darks spots on the fruit. Although CBS is a


CompANY PROFILE purely cosmetic defect and the fruit is safe for consumption, the EU announced that should it detect more than five cases of CBS originating from South African citrus fruits, exportation into the EU would be stopped before the end of the season. However, Danckwerts believes that the EU has implemented this rule as a way of creating an ‘artificial trade barrier’ to stop exports of citrus fruit coming from South Africa and other countries, in order to strengthen production of fruit within the EU itself. “The European markets are under threat, and because half of South Africa’s fruit goes to Europe, they are creating artificial trade barriers. The current flavour of the month is Citrus Black Spot.

“All the research on CBS has shown that firstly the organism cannot grow and survive in the Mediterranean climate, and secondly the organism cannot be transferred via the fruit. For example, CBS is prevalent in North America, but they have opened up the free flow of citrus fruit; they used to be terrified of spreading it from Florida to California, but they have acknowledged that CBS cannot spread via the fruit.” The CBS virus, albeit harmless to humans, could have devastating effects on South Africa’s citrus industry, and has already halted exportation into the EU for the remainder of this year’s season. Danckwerts says that until a resolution is found, Kat River Citrus will continue to meet the requirements set out by

“The European markets are under threat, and because half of South Africa’s fruit goes to Europe, they are creating artificial trade barriers. The current flavour of the month is Citrus Black Spot.”


Kat River Citrus the EU and work alongside the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries to ensure it is doing all that it can to ensure the virus does not reach its production line. “It’s a huge threat, and we have to walk the walk in terms of the EU’s restrictions. We work closely with the Department of Agriculture and they are doing all that they can. “They have put in huge restrictions on citrus production and implemented a particularly expensive and harsh spray programme to control CBS. They also check every farm for the infection that is exporting into Europe, so they are very involved.”

FUTURE PLANS Despite any future threats to South Africa’s citrus industry, Danckwerts says that the cooperative is focussed on moving forward and further developing the business. “Our first goal is to produce more and more soft citrus fruit, the other goal is to resolve the issue in Europe, so we can expand and develop that market further, and our final goal is to diversify into Eastern Europe and the Far East.”



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