THE BLOG
29/03/2018 12:14 SAST | Updated 29/03/2018 12:15 SAST

Fruitful Opportunities For The Citrus Industry

A Ramaphosa-led government could be good for oranges, in both the literal and figurative sense.

Paulo Whitaker/ Reuters

The citrus industry has much to be optimistic about. Stats SA confirmed agriculture as the leading contributor to our GDP growth in 2017. The sector grew by 17.7 percent, despite weathering the worst drought in 100 years. And it was this contribution that helped cement the economy's 1.3 percent growth that exceeded Treasury's forecast of 1 percent.

Many South Africans will agree that watching President Ramaphosa deliver his maiden state of the nation address recently, against the backdrop of previous iterations of the same speech, was a case of comparing apples and oranges.

While we have a literal vested interest in oranges (as well as the entire citrus value chain, with its resultant jobs), the glaring difference in governance and approach reaches beyond the idiomatic and touches every single South African. But allow me to demonstrate how a Ramaphosa-led government could be good for oranges, in both the literal and figurative sense.

Figures from the Bureau for Food and Agricultural Policy (BFAP) confirm the significance of the citrus industry as a global player, comprising 9 percent of global market share. In this sector, which closed the last season with export revenue totalling R18.3-billion, we're particularly proud to be a part of the agricultural sector.

We welcome specific reference by the president during the Sona to the significant economic role of agriculture with its inherent growth potential. Equally encouraging is his commitment to take decisive steps to realise the agricultural sector's economic potential.

Government's renewed focus on infrastructure investment – as a lever for economic growth, job creation, and to empower small businesses – bodes well for the citrus industry, especially with the promise of accelerated water projects. In fact, we hope to partner with government in the anticipated Youth Employment Service initiative, which is set to create a million internships in the next three years.

And the president's cited Investment Conference, which aims to target domestic and international investment, can only propel our economy forward - translating into various opportunities within the citrus industry and other sectors.

The matter of land – which comes with deep-seated and warranted scars – is a tenuous matter. But it must not become a case of a historic injustice being turned into a historic mistake.

The citrus industry welcomes sound trade agreements, such as the Tripartite Free Trade Area agreement, to unite SADC, COMESA and the East African Community. These are integral to the economic advancement of the industry, and therefore our country. We anticipate much-needed market access opportunities for our exports, as well as increased job opportunities. And with South Africa taking over the chair of BRICS, which will give priority to the promotion of value-added trade and intra-BRICS investment into productive sectors, this makes for an ideal platform for the citrus industry to address market access constraints in Russia, India and China.

Our unemployment rate of 26.7 percent and the youth unemployment rate of 52 percent (according to the Spectator Index) are both staggering.

Therefore, government's planned Jobs Summit to establish a collective effort to create jobs came as good news for us in the citrus industry, in particular. The labour-intensive citrus industry could contribute significantly to this dialogue and harness existing efforts by our Citrus Academy to get more young people job-ready through internships and mentorship.

However, the resonant narrative around the expropriation of land without compensation remains one of poignant concern within the agricultural sector. The matter of land – which comes with deep-seated and warranted scars – is a tenuous matter. But it must not become a case of a historic injustice being turned into a historic mistake.

The Citrus Growers' Association (CGA) of Southern Africa has more than 20 years of experience and represents approximately 1,400 producers of export citrus throughout Southern Africa (including Zimbabwe and Swaziland). And with a revenue of R18.3-billion, of which 92 percent comes mostly from exports, the industry looks forward to continuing to put bread on the tables of the South Africans in its employ – approximately 120,000 of them.

President Ramaphosa certainly has his work cut out for him, with government's eradication of corruption and incompetence as his primary challenge. Without achieving this feat, South Africa cannot move forward. But with a robust collaboration between government, business leaders and civil society, and with the support of (what we hope will prove to be) a formidable newly appointed team behind him, the president is capable of bringing about a change that transcends any hackneyed idiom.

We look forward to working with the government to further enhance relations with our international trade partners, so that we can continue to play our part in South Africa's economy. As a diverse nation, we may resemble the variety of a cornucopia. But this doesn't take away from the fact that we can pull together to haul our country to its rightful economic place.

Justin Chadwick, CEO: Citrus Growers Association (CGA) of Southern Africa