European appetite for citrus is giving a boost to southern African exports that had been threatened by the worst drought in decades.
Exports of the fruits totaled 22 million cartons since the season started in March, up 20 percent from a year earlier, the Citrus Growers’ Association of Southern Africa said in a statement. The European Union accounted for the biggest increase in demand, with shipments there rising 34 percent. Each carton weighs 15 kilograms (33 pounds).
The association said in March that the worst drought in more than a century in South Africa, which vies with Egypt as the world’s largest shipper of oranges, would probably hurt this year’s harvest and reduce exports. The local industry employs about 100,000 people and exports account for about 80 percent of its 9.4 billion rand ($617 million) in annual revenue.
“There has largely been an increase in demand for our lemons” in Europe, Justin Chadwick, chief executive officer of the growers’ group, said by phone. “It is very difficult to tell what the end figures will be because it is early in the season. We might be ahead now, but in the next two weeks we might not.”
This season’s total exports will probably reach 111.2 million cartons, down 6 percent from a year earlier, according to the association, which has about 1,400 members in South Africa to Zimbabwe.
The Eastern Cape province is South Africa’s largest lemon-producing region, accounting for half of total output. The area received good rains toward the end of last year, filling dams sufficiently for irrigation farming. Fruit from there helped supplement supply from other areas, Chadwick said in March.
“The local market and processing take very little fruit and they will be adequately supplied,” he said Wednesday.
In April, South Africa withdrew exports of organic lemons to the EU to mitigate the risk of black spot disease spreading to that region. The country has applied to the U.S. Department of Agriculture to allow the sale of citrus products from all regions, not just the Northern and Western Cape provinces currently approved.
Southern Africa’s citrus exports so far this season:
Shipments to the EU increased to 9.8 million cartons. Exports to the Middle East are up about 9 percent to 4.8 million cartons. Shipments to North America climbed 70 percent to 1.2 million cartons, while demand grew modestly in Asia and Africa. Russia is the only market where exports have slowed.