South Africa’s citrus industry is treading a thin line in Europe now that it has four citrus black spot (CBS) interceptions to its name out of a maximum of five allowed for the season. A delegation of experts on the disease is currently on a EU tour to discuss border control inspections and mitigate the disease’s presence. At www.freshfruitportal.com, we speak with the Citrus Growers Association’s (CGA) special envoy for market access and EU matters, Deon Joubert to learn more.
On Tuesday (July 21), the Eastern Cape grower behind three CBS-related interceptions at EU border controls – out of four so far this year – was banned from exporting to the EU in a bid to clean up the South African supply chain.
“Up until now we’ve had four interceptions, three of which were from the same PUC number [the orchard where the fruit was picked] which is really unfortunate but we’ve closed that down now,” Joubert tells www.freshfruit.portal.com.
“On Tuesday we suspended exports of organic lemons and this is to show that South Africa is serious about mitigating the risk and takes this person out of contention, so it’s not an aspect which could have any detrimental impact on Europe now.
“So the number of interceptions has not been high but we continue to work extremely hard on this and it’s a massive exercise which is probably costing us around ZAR1 billion (US$80 million).”
This is part of the reason why the four-strong team of delegates are currently visiting inspection points across Spain, Portugal, France, Italy and the U.K. Last year experts visited Germany and the Netherlands on a similar fact-finding mission.
“The experts are in Europe visiting all of the sites where the border controls have taken place, where product has been identified with CBS and to look at each individual file which was built on each interception, so we can do and find out as much as possible.
“You usually find much more understanding and solve some problems that we didn’t know we had, and that’s obviously the best part of it.
“Our team are connecting with colleagues of the five European countries. Advice can be offered on either side; from the EU to us and us to the EU.”
The CBS debate
In recent years, the South African citrus sector has faced restrictions in Europe over CBS, prompting huge investment in developing and maintaining a comprehensive and robust management system.
The debate is about CBS and its potential impact on Europe rages – including disagreements and opposing viewpoints – within the global citrus industry, in particular from Mediterranean growers such as the Spanish.
In March, South Africa stopped exporting minimal volumes to Spain, following concerns over how tests for the disease are carried out.
“By bypassing Spanish borders we can defuse the situation and can relax about the fruit. So if we stay out of Spain, there’s no chance of transferral of CBS, in the European view.
“If they [Spain] see us as a risk and just 3.4% went to Spain in 2014; we just don’t send it there now as it’s not worth the risk and the aggravation.”
The majority of South African citrus is supplied to northern Europe through Rotterdam and Britain.
“We have gone from 28 interceptions and we are ever-improving so the important work our experts are doing in Europe right now is part of our effort to further hone in on our improvements.”
Weeding out the problem
Joubert explains how the majority of ‘team supply lines’, where growers and exporters have full access to EU markets, are ‘completely clean’, but unfortunately from time to time a disappointing CBS case may crop up.
“The whole idea is for those growers and exports who have never had a problem to remain in the European trade.
“Those who give us problems from time to time, we try to weed them out. Things don’t happen overnight, but we have progressed massively if you look where we stood and if we do better again this year and we keep the problem grower/exporters out of Europe, then you have a nice clean set up.”