South African kiwifruit industry has potential for rapid expansion, economists say

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South African kiwifruit industry has potential for rapid expansion, economists say

The South African kiwifruit industry has huge potential and should be made a focus of the country's post-pandemic reconstruction and recovery plan for the agricultural industry.

The government has partnered with the private sector in drafting an Agricultural & Agro-Processing Master Plan, which is expected to be launched in the coming months.

Writing in Business Live, Louw Pienaar, a senior agricultural economist at the Bureau for Food & Agricultural Policy, and Wandile Sihlobo, chief economist of the Agricultural Business Chamber of SA, said a clear focus on commodities with the potential for growth but that have not featured as prominently as crops such as maize, citrus, and wine grapes is also required. They say one such commodity is kiwifruit.

"The SA kiwifruit industry is small (about 200ha under cultivation), though production dates back more than 40 years. The fruit is grown in Limpopo, Mpumalanga, KwaZulu-Natal and there has been resurgence recently in the Western Cape," they said.

"While the local industry has operated in the shadows of major fruits for many years, interest is growing.This is driven in part by changing global consumer preferences and the focus on a healthy diet. We believe it is possible that the kiwifruit industry could experience impressive expansion — as was the case with blueberries, which were stagnant for a long time expanded greatly as global demand spurred SA farmers to increase their production."

They said several new varieties of kiwifruit have entered SA recently, with unique colours and flavours, and some are well suited to local growing conditions.

A large portion of kiwifruit ripens earlier than in New Zealand, the leading Southern Hemisphere exporter, an advantage since it allows producers to access the global market earlier, they said.

"In addition, SA has an established agricultural trade relationship with the EU, and is closer to that market than New Zealand, which should translate into a price advantage," they said. "There is also an opportunity for exports into Africa and its oceanic islands, which are potentially valuable new markets."

"Domestic demand is also likely to grow in the coming years. SA is a net importer of kiwifruit, and we view this as an immediate opportunity for farmers. The knowledge of the fruit industry in scaling production of berries, cherries and other alternative crops also count in our favour, with a supply chain geared to efficiency."

They noted that the labor-intensive nature of kiwifruit production strengthens the case for it to be explored from a policy perspective, given SA’s high rate of unemployment.

While no formal research has been completed yet, they says their our observations suggest job creation in kiwifruit could be similar to that of table grapes at about two full-time job equivalents per hectare planted.

"The major driver of the future growth of this industry will hinge on the ability to drive yield improvement and quality. We hope SA’s kiwifruit industry can follow in the steps of its blueberry counterpart to drive more growth in agriculture," they said.

"Focusing on agriculture as one of the sectors to stimulate growth and job creation is the right approach, with a focus on exploring niche crops and fruit such as the kiwifruit, which might be a game changer in the agricultural sector."

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