Transnet port gears up for another record citrus season

Amid Covid-19-induced supply chain disruptions, Transnet Port Terminals (TPT) is gearing up for yet another successful and record-breaking citrus season.

The terminal operator, which is responsible for loading and offloading cargo aboard vessels calling into South Africa’s seven ports, said the citrus season this year saw a 16 percent year-on-year increase compared to volumes handled last year. This was the highest recorded.

This month, the Citrus Growers Association of Southern Africa (CGA) announced that South Africa’s citrus industry would probably break all previous export season records this year, with an estimated 158.7 million cartons. If the estimate was realised, it would represent a third-consecutive season of record export volumes, with 130 million cartons exported in 2019, followed by 146 million cartons last year. CGA’s projections for this year indicated a 22 percent growth in export figures in just two years.

The company provides import and export services for domestic and global markets through a staff complement of 9 000 across 16-sea cargo and three inland terminals.

TPT general manager of sales and new business Siyabulela Mhlaluka said a combination of interventions introduced last year would be employed again this season. Those include a revision of TPT’s reefer operating guidelines, introduced last year to enhance user experience, following input from internal and external stakeholders.

“There were extensive pre-season engagements with all terminals to manage readiness with a key focus on people, equipment and process optimisation – something we are continuing with this year,” he noted.

“We further have weekly integrated planning meetings with both internal and external supply chain stakeholders. This proved especially crucial for deviation management throughout the season.”

Introducing the truck booking system at the Durban Container Terminals Pier 1 and Pier 2 had a significant contribution towards reducing peak congestion and ensuring workloads were spread out over 24 hours.

The citrus season would begin next month at the Durban, Port Elizabeth and Ngqura Container Terminals. TPT expected it to begin with a gradual resurgence in demand, which it attributed to positive business sentiment following the vaccine rollouts in major economies.

Mhlaluka said strain on supply chain capacity was expected.

He indicated, however, the arrival of 22 new straddle carriers at the Durban Container Terminals Pier 2, between May and July this year, would boost season performance.

The export service provider said citrus fruits formed about 55 percent of South Africa’s fruit production and were exported in refrigerated containers, called reefers, to more than 100 countries mainly in the EU, Russia, the US and the Mediterranean countries.

Medium-term crop estimates indicate that the citrus industry were expected to continue increasing its exports by another 300 000 tons over the next three years. The growth projections for soft citrus, lemons and Valencia oranges alone indicated an expected additional R6.8 billion in foreign exchange earnings and the creation of 22 250 sustainable jobs over the next three years.

CGA chief executive Justin Chadwick said the figures indicated phenomenal growth within the South African citrus industry and for the country’s economy.

He said the demand for their produce overseas was a wonderful testament to the quality of South Africa’s citrus fruit.

“There is no doubt that citrus growers are investing heavily for the future, with more than R1 billion in grower levies over the next four years going into research and technology to support market access and transformation, while creating an enabling logistics environment to move the fruit,” added Chadwick earlier this month.

National Agricultural Marketing Council trade economist Dr Sifiso Ntombela said the citrus industry was continuing to be a dominant foreign earner for agriculture and the economy at large.

“This also bodes well for job creation and rural development in many areas in Limpopo and Eastern Cape where citrus is mainly produced. On the challenging side, the increasing citrus production demands better access to new export markets which is a challenge to both government and farmers to work together in finding new profitable markets to absorb additional citrus output,” he noted. -BusinessReport