SOUTH AFRICA – South Africa has suspended exports of citrus to the EU following the detection of black spot.

This comes at a time when the country’s agricultural sector is dealing with the fallout from a prolonged drought.

The Western Cape, which produces more than 50% of SA’s agricultural exports, has been particularly hard hit. Drought in summer rainfall regions has largely dissipated.

Total gross producer value for oranges reached R9.29bn in the 2016-17 season, with exports accounting for the bulk of the total production, according to FNB research.

The Citrus Growers Association said in a statement on Tuesday that it had asked the Department of Agriculture to ban all citrus exports to the EU, except those from the Western Cape and the Northern Cape, which were not affected by the fungal disease. The disease is transmitted through the movement of infected plant material.

“This decision was taken as a measure to ensure continued future access to the EU market, which is of significant importance to all industry stakeholders, not to mention the 100 000 people we employ,” the industry body said.

The EU accounts for the largest market for SA’s citrus exports, which include oranges, lemons and grapefruit.

The Boland in the Western Cape was the leading producer and exporter of soft fruit in the 2016-17 season, which runs from March to October.

The industry body and the department were not immediately available for comment at the time of publication.

The other agricultural sectors affected by the crippling drought in the Western Cape are deciduous fruit and wine.

In June‚ deciduous fruit industry body Hortgro said drought had slashed apple and pear exports by 9% and 6%, respectively.

Hortgro’s Jacques du Preez said in September that fruit farmers were considering contingency plans.

“It has been one of the driest winters in recent history‚ with unprecedented low dam levels and pressure on the water infrastructure servicing Cape Town and other municipal areas in the region‚” Du Preez said.

Fruit farmers were still anxiously waiting for rain to fill up their dams.

Hortgro recently presented an irrigation seminar to equip fruit producers with tools and strategies to mitigate the effects of the drought as best as possible‚ Du Preez said at the time.

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