SA’s citrus beats the world’s Covid blues

The most stringent parts of South Africa’s lockdown in response to the Covid-19 pandemic ran parallel to one of the most fruitful harvests the country sees each year: March through August marks South Africa’s citrus season. 

One of the highest-ranked in the world, South Africa’s citrus — oranges, lemons, grapefruit and easy-peeling soft citrus — is exported to counter-seasonal regions such as Europe, Asia, the Middle East and North America

The early stages of lockdown saw the citrus industry face uncertainty about how it would maintain this. Supply chain difficulties, including congestion at the Cape Town and Durban ports, uncertainty about the Covid regulations and container shortages had many worried. 

But these were quickly dealt with by the South African Citrus Growers’ Association (CGA), which formed a solutions response committee that developed guidelines for matters such as the labour-intensive industry’s farmhouses and work safely. The association worked with Transnet to resolve lengthy port delays. 

On the receiving end, things were running smoothly, and — the pandemic notwithstanding — the CGA’s reports from the end of September (the end of the season) estimate a record export of 148.8-million cartons, 21.3-million cartons more than last year’s officially packed figure of 127.5-million cartons. 


“What could have been a disastrous season turned into the best one we have ever had,” said Justin Chadwick, CGA’s chief executive. 

South Africa exported 80-million cartons of oranges, 29.4-million cartons of lemons, 23.6-million cartons of soft citrus and 15.6-million cartons of grapefruit. 

The CGA believes the spike in demand — which has seen additional United States ports of entry for citrus imports from South Africa open up, as well as the Philippines signing on after more than a decade of negotiations — is in no small part caused by Covid-19 pandemic and the belief that a higher intake of vitamin C will serve people well in fighting the effects of the disease.

Despite no definitive proof that vitamin C is an immunity booster, it hasn’t stopped the global scramble for grapefruit, oranges and lemons. According to a World Health Organisation publication on vitamin and mineral requirements in human nutrition, “claims for a positive association between vitamin C consumption and health status are frequently made, but results from intervention studies are inconsistent.” 

A regular intake of Vitamin C is essential for blood vessels, cartilage, muscle and collagen formation among other things, according to the Mayo Clinic.

In terms of total citrus exports, South Africa ranks number two, behind Spain. In terms of oranges individually, another African country claims the top spot. According to the Financial Times, Egypt surpassed Spain and South Africa (in the second and third spots, respectively) in 2019 to become the world’s largest exporter of oranges by volume for the second consecutive year, exporting 1.8-million metric tonnes of the fruit.

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Aaisha Dadi Patel
Aaisha Dadi Patel
Aaisha Dadi Patel was previously a member of the M&G’s online team. She holds an MA in Media Studies from the University of the Witwatersrand

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