Photo courtesy of Hortgro

Slowdowns at Cape Town port hampers South Africa fruit campaign, poses ‘threat’ to future of industry

Fresh Fruit Portal

The backlog at Cape Town Port has improved, but not in time to save the South African fruit industry from reputational damage, according to a statement by Hortgro.

“While things are better, machines still break down and need repair. The export schedule is still lagging,” the industry body said Thursday. 

“Reputational damage to the fruit industry will take a long time to repair. Public-private partnerships are the only route to replace equipment and get separation between the landlord Transnet National Ports Authority (TNPA) and operator Transnet Port Terminals (TPT).”

Hortgro General Manager Jacques du Preez said South Africa has already passed the peak weeks for table grape, stone fruit and early pear varieties. Current measures to improve port operations have come too late to salvage the operation of those seasons.

“It seems like we are heading in the right direction, although the damage has been done to the stone fruit industry,” du Preez said.

New leadership at port authority

The country’s port operator, Transnet, underwent a change in leadership on Wednesday. Minister of Public Enterprises Pravin Gordhan named Michelle Phillips as the organization’s new CEO and Nosipho Maphumulo as CFO. 

“These are critical appointments which represent our steadfast commitment as government to equip Transnet with a competent and experienced executive leadership team to drive the strategic interventions that the Board has put in place as part of the Transnet recovery plan,” Minister Gordhan said in a public announcement.

Hortgro Stone Chairman André Smit described the industry’s port issues as its biggest threat. 

“Logistics, especially the port of Cape Town, failed us yet again, albeit that things were somewhat better than the previous year,” Smit said in Horgro’s annual review.

“The continued challenges of productivity due to the lack of adequate and serviceable equipment, given continued breakdown and the resultant poor flow of product through the port of Cape Town is possibly the single biggest risk and threat to the future of our industry.”

Ports in Eastern Cape 

This February had fewer wind delays in Cape Town than in previous years, Hortgro said. But growers continue to truck export volumes to ports in the Eastern Cape as an alternative.

“A substantial volume of export fruit did not use the CTP terminal but was trucked to Eastern Cape ports or shipped via specialized reefer vessels that do not load at the Cape Town container terminal. All, at a considerable expense to the industry,” Hortgro said.

Despite the difficulties, South African cherries experienced a record export season, according to Hortgro’s 2023 review. The category saw a 36% increase over the record of the previous season. The main markets for South African cherries are the UK, Middle East, Far East and Asia.

Nectarines, however, saw a 6% drop to around 7.7 million cartons in 2022-23. Plums were down 13% to 13.6 million.



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