One in every 10 oranges eaten around the world now comes from South Africa.
The country’s flourishing fruit industry has increasingly made up a bigger proportion of the international trade, said the Bureau for Food and Agricultural Policy in its latest agricultural outlook for the period 2018 to 2028.
Citrus, grapes and pome fruits, in particular, have strengthened their market position in the past decade.
Citrus’ market share has risen from 4% in 2001 to more than 10% last year, followed by table grapes (5% to 7%) and pome fruits (3% to 6%).
Citrus is South Africa’s biggest and most important fruit export, according to value and volume.
By the year 2028 the country could be exporting 25% more cartons than last year, said the bureau.
But to sustain this growth, new and diversified markets need to be found, the bureau said.
The EU and UK are far and away the most important export markets for locally grown fruit, but the dependence on these markets leaves South Africa vulnerable because the populations in both markets are growing at less than 1.5% a year.
The report said these are also regions where there are no food shortages.
South Africa is the world’s third-largest citrus exporter, after Spain and Turkey. Oranges make up the bulk of the exports.
About 76% of the citrus that South Africa produces is exported, with 32% going to the EU and 10% to the UK.
About 25% of stone fruit (such as peaches and prunes), is exported, with 40% of the fruit going to the EU and 31% to the UK.
In fruits that are seeing production increases, such as lemons, limes and soft citrus (naartjies), new markets need to be found where demand and buying power is expected to increase.
Many of South Africa’s competitors in the southern hemisphere are already a step ahead of us in some of these profitable markets and South Africa cannot afford to drag its feet, said the bureau.
A large proportion of new lemon trees are expected to begin producing fruit in the next few years.
In 2009 a total of 4 449 hectares were cultivated. By last year this had risen to 14 470ha.
For naartjies, the area under production in this period increased from 4 960ha to 16 285ha.
Production of naartjies could grow to more than 561 000 tons by 2028 and lemons and limes to about 642 000 tons, as new groves begin carrying fruit.
In the past season South Africa passed Argentina and is now the fourth-largest exporter of lemons and limes, after Mexico, Spain and Turkey.
The US, EU, UK and Russia are the biggest importers of lemons and therefore South Africa’s competitors are geographically more ideally located to serve these markets, said the report.
If markets are not found for the additional products, there will be an oversupply of fruit in the market and prices will drop.
As a result of growth in fruit production, South Africa needs to maintain a constant supply of high-quality fruit to growing markets.
The biggest portion of apple exports goes to the UK and the EU (31%), Africa (29%) and the Far East and Asia (27%).
The growing trend in fruit exports to Africa could well continue in the next 10 years, the report said.
The success of plums – exported as prunes – is expected to continue in the next few years.
On average 74% of total prune production in the past 10 years was exported and growth of 14% is expected in the next decade.
The bureau said plum trees are increasingly being planted in areas where other fruits, such as peaches, were previously cultivated.