Despite Covid-19 dealing an overall blow to South African economy, the agricultural sector, with fresh produce exports leading the way, became the toast of the country in the second quarter of the year, with its trade surplus growing 35 per cent.
Economists said that exports of citrus, apples, pears, table grapes, avocados and macadamia nuts, as well as wine, maize and sugar cane, were responsible for the strong agricultural performance.
The news is a reminder to the country’s politicians of just how important a role the fruit sector plays in national economic development.
Much has been written about future policies regarding land and land ownership. The fruit sector has repeatedly reminded the government that it is a huge contributor to the economy and ill-advised decisions coukd put the future of the industry at risk.
It is important to look at just what happened this year in the fruit export industries to put this performance in perspective.
The table grape harvest was mostly concluded before the Covid-19 lockdown was introduced, and it recorded a near-record harvest and export volume.
The citrus and topfruit sectors had to conduct their activities mainly under lockdown, which resulted in tough restrictions on both farms and in packhouses to safeguard employees from the spread of the virus.
Despite this, and despite disruptions in the ports, mainly in Cape Town, the apple and citrus industries recorded record export volumes.
The avocado industry also had to conduct its business during this tough lockdown and when the last containers have been shipped, it is expected that the total export volume will be less than the initial forecast.
An important reason for this stellar overall performance is the fact that demand for fresh produce generally surged as consumers looked to fruit to boost their immune systems.
Analysts also said that new eating habits could well become part of the future of consumption. The fruit sector is well situated to benefit from this in future if and when the world finally emerges from the grip of the pandemic.