Fuji Royal apples South Africa

South Africa's fresh fruit industry body, Hortgro, has announced it will increase efforts to ensure an ongoing supply of safe, quality fruit for local and export markets following the outbreak of coronavirus across the world.

In a statement, Hortgro said it expects at-home consumption to increase as the outbreak develops.

“Consumers need to maintain a healthy, balanced diet with access to fresh fruit, and therefore Hortgro is doing all that it can to make sure that the fruit value chain continues as normal.”

Jacques du Preez, general manager for trade and markets at Hortgro, said the apple harvest looks especially good this year and he was hoping that the pandemic will not influence exports or the markets.

“Indications in Europe suggest that due to the pandemic the demand for fresh fruit and vegetables has increased,” said du Preez.

In a statement, Hortgro said the industry was taking note of the Covid-19 outbreak and will follow the government’s protocols and guidelines pertaining to the situation.

It also supports the declaration of a national state of emergence, made by South African president Cyril Ramaphosa.

“We advise all role-players in the fruit value chain to adhere to government protocols and do everything in their power to protect themselves and workers.”

Hortgro said it had put measures in place to protect its staff and families. This includes local and international travel restrictions and flexible working arrangements for employees where possible.

“Where this is not possible, arrangements are in place to ensure a safe environment for employees with increased cleaning protocols and restricted access. Video conferencing will replace meetings and all events have been rescheduled until further notice.”

Hortgro has informed stonefruit, apple and pear producers in South Africa to make sure that agricultural workers receive the correct information regarding the outbreak.

“Disinformation fuels anxiety. We are asking producers to keep their workforce informed with the correct information and to keep everyone calm, by following protocols,” said Hortgro’s executive director, Anton Rabe.

According to Hortgro, each farming entity and packhouse has its own response plan.

“The fruit value chain from orchard to packhouse and to consumers already subscribes to the highest international food safety standards. All South African packhouses are accredited and follow strict guidelines. Without these protocols and auditing systems, the export of fruit to discerning international markets would not be possible.”

It has advised the public to eat healthy, fresh produce that is full of antioxidants and vitamins to help boost immune systems and general health.

“Consumers should follow sensible hygiene protocols by washing hands before handling fruit, and to wash fruit properly before eating it.”

Hortgro said it will continue to monitor the situation and engage with health professionals when and where required.

“For over a hundred years South Africa has had an excellent reputation as a credible and reliable source of excellent quality and safe fresh fruit. The Covid-19 outbreak is an unprecedented occurrence, but the deciduous fruit industry has never backed off from a challenge.”