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Eastern Cape protests have cost citrus growers R270 million in export fruit and infrastructure damage

Business Insider SA
A worker harvests oranges. (Image: Getty)
A worker harvests oranges. (Image: Getty)
  • Citrus growers in a key producing region in the Eastern Cape have lost almost R300 million following protests that resulted in damage to property, infrastructure, and orchards.
  • R200 million of export fruit has been lost as it can't be shipped any longer.
  • An additional R70 million has been lost to property damage.
  • Farmers have fallen behind on their picking schedules and cannot fill shelves booked in overseas stores.
  • For more stories go to www.BusinessInsider.co.za.

Citrus growers in a part of the Eastern Cape have lost almost R300 million over the past three weeks after Sundays River Valley, a key producing region in that province, was rocked by protest action.

Citrus-producing farms located in Sundays River Valley have lost over R200 million in fruit meant to be exported, Hennie Ehlers, Chairman of the Sunday Rivers Valley Citrus Producers' Forum, told Business Insider South Africa on Tuesday.

Additionally, losses relating to damage to property have cost farmers R70 million.

"The outbreak of violent protests on citrus-producing farms in the Sundays River Valley region has caused extensive damage to citrus growers' property, infrastructure, orchards, and packhouses," Ehlers said.

"The damages incurred have been particularly devastating, given that over the past number of years, relationships between community, employers, and employees in the valley have been harmonious," he said.

Exporters who had already secured space on shelves overseas are now unable to fill them up. Farmers have also fallen behind their fruit picking schedules, resulting in lower export volumes.

Losses pertaining to the non-delivery of fruit will be determined at a later stage, Ehlers said.

"The loss of income increases on a daily basis, as fruit falls to the ground, while growers lose out on the export season's earlier window to ship lemons and mandarins," he said.

The protest action, which began about three weeks ago, is threatening the industry's sustainability in the Sundays River region and comes at a time when the sector faces immense financial pressures, with farmers having to contend with rising input costs including electricity, fertliser, and freight rates.

The workers, represented by the South African National Civic Organisation (SANCO), are demanding a wage increase to R30.00 from R23.19. Attempts to reach a SANCO spokesperson by Business Insider was unsuccessful, it will be added if received. The workers also seek to have a limit set on the number of foreign national workers hired on farms. Workers have since not returned to work.

The uncertainty caused by Russia's invasion of Ukraine on global supply chains, and the operational inefficiencies at the ports have added to the industry's woes.

"The local community will also be significantly impacted, given that citrus growers in Sundays River are the largest employers in the region," Ehlers said.

According to the Citrus Growers Association, South Africa delivered 161.6 million cartons of local citrus across the world in 2021. Sundays River alone produced over 29.3 million cartons for export, with lemons raking in the most significant export volumes.

Ehlers said rain in the Eastern Cape has come at the right time, saying that the size of the fruit is also at optimum levels.

"The current obstacle faced by growers is that quite a number of varieties are ready for picking. Producers will need to pick varieties where the financial losses could be limited as well as managed given the present circumstances," he said.

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