The Citrus Growers Association of Southern Africa (CGA) yesterday called for ports to open for 24 hours in order to address backlogs – caused by shipping delays brought about by the shutdown of ports in KwaZulu-Natal last week – to ensure the export season continued to run smoothly.

The South African citrus industry expects to break all export season records, with an estimated 158.7 million cartons this year. If this estimate was reached, it would represent a third consecutive season of record export volumes, with 130 million cartons exported in 2019 and 146 million cartons last year.

The CGA’s projections for 2021 indicate a 22 percent growth in export figures in two years.

The CGA’s chief executive, Justin Chadwick, said the backlog in Durban could have a knock-on effect at ports in the Eastern Cape and the Western Cape that were reliant on refrigerated containers flowing from Durban.

“The industry has, therefore, urgently called for ports to open for 24 hours in order to catch up on backlogs and ensure the export season continues to run smoothly,” said Chadwick.

The port of Durban and the arterial routes and railways to the port have reopened. All citrus fruit cold storage facilities in the province were fully secured and operational.

The CGA said it strongly condemned the recent spate of looting and arson that had disrupted the citrus value chain, and most critically, resulted in the closure of the Durban port. The industry vowed that it would continue to ensure that citrus was exported to key markets.

Chadwick said growers in Limpopo and Mpumalanga had been diverting their fruit to other ports across the country, with citrus from other regions continuing to be exported from Cape Town and Coega ports. Last week saw little impact on the volume of citrus exported to markets including the EU, the Middle East, China and the US.

The association said in order to ensure the full recovery of the value chain in KwaZulu-Natal, the CGA had been engaging with stakeholders in the public and private sectors daily to obtain updates on the situation on the ground and to identify any risks.

This information was provided to the government continuously.

The industry said although traffic was flowing on the N2 and the N3, many truck businesses had been impacted by the violence last week, which meant that truck supply was stretched in the region.

The CGA said many truckers were prepared to transport cargo only during the day because of ongoing security concerns. The association said for this reason it had requested that SANDF troops continue to man both highways to allow trucks to operate 24 hours a day.

The industry said it had also called for troops to continue to be deployed to other key sites across the citrus value chain, including the port of Durban, the Natcor railway line, and food distribution centres and cold stores in hot spot areas such as Hammarsdale and Cato Ridge. Chadwick said the safety of employees travelling to and from their places of work also needed to be guaranteed.

He said with food shortages still an immediate threat in a number of areas in KwaZulu-Natal, the citrus industry was engaging with the government on any assistance it could provide to deliver food and necessities to communities impacted by the unrest.

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