Further growth of 10 per cent is anticipated for South Africa’s exports as the 2024 season slowly gets underway

South African blueberries on plate

The South African blueberry season has started in the north of the country, and it is expected that the first export shipments will get under way within four weeks.

However, significant exports will only begin when harvesting in the Western Cape ramps up in the second half of the year.

Meanwhile Berries ZA, the industry’s grower body, said that it was making good progress with efforts to increase its footprint in eastern markets.

South Africa has already submitted key information to India to advance access and has received initial feedback, according to Brent Walsh, chief executive of Berries ZA.

While it is generally accepted that the process with India will be competed relatively soon, it will take longer to gain entry to China, where all focus is now on access for South African stonefruit.

Walsh said there was great anticipation in the Indian trade for the start of South African exports.

“For our industry it will be a momentum shift to broaden access into the east as the industry expects continued growth in the years ahead,” he outlined.

“For the immediate future, however, our eyes are also firmly focused on our markets in Europe and the UK, as well as the Middle East. In the respect of these markets early indications are positive for a good season and we hope that the favourable weather we have had will continue,”

South Africa has a growing blueberry industry and has in recent years recorded substantial growth in production. However, weather conditions and logistics problems over the past two years have been somewhat disruptive.

Walsh said South Africa was ideally suited to supply the Indian market from its eastern coastal ports, where there were good shipping opportunities.

There were also good airfreight opportunities to India, he confirmed.

”The demand is already there in India and increasing every year. Our industry is keen to supply this fast-growing market with our high quality of fruit.”

It was originally hoped that South Africa would be able to conduct its first shipments to India when the new season picked up steam in July. However, this may not be possible because experience show that final protocol agreements take some time.

South Africa exported just over 22,000 tonnes of blueberries last year, short of the 25,000 tonnes which was forecast.

“We had some difficult conditions during the harvest which slowed down picking and packing,” Walsh added. “We are also in a phase of introducing new varieties which positions us for long term growth.”

All indications are that South Africa will get to 25,000 tonnes this year.