Citrus is one of South Africa’s most important—and iconic—agricultural products, yet some feel that the sector has been punching under its weight in comparison with other types of produce, with production outstripping demand. This year things began to change when the Citrus Growers Association (CGA) joined forces with other international citrus associations to form the World Citrus Organisation (WCO)—a development that promises to take citrus production to a whole new level.

The WCO was officially launched on 4 February 2020, representing 70% of citrus growers worldwide. CGA CEO Justin Chadwick explains, “The WCO is intended as a representative body for all citrus producing countries. The idea is that we can share experiences, gather and publish credible information on area under citrus, production and exports, discuss common problems and promote the attributes of citrus products.”

In recognition of South Africa’s status as major citrus player, the CGA was elected alongside the Spanish Lemon and Grapefruit Interbranch Association, AILIMPO, as WCO co-chairperson two years. “The Citrus Growers Association of Southern Africa will represent Zimbabwe, Eswatini and South Africa on the WCO. At the moment the joint Chairmanship is Jose Antonio Garcia and myself. Spain is number one exporter in the world, South Africa number two. So the two countries decided we have the responsibility of uniting the world citrus producers behind a common goal – to promote our sector and to raise demand for citrus worldwide,” says Chadwick.

Elaborating on the CGA’s instrumental role in forming the new global association, Chadwick says, “CGA and AILIMPO have had a relationship for many years. We initiated discussions with Ailimpo a few years back. We had seen the creation of world bodies (World Apple and Pear Association, World Avocado Association, World Berry Association) and had seen what they were able to achieve as a united sector. The citrus sector did not have this— and we needed it.

Citrus production is growing around the world; we need to ensure that we have demand growing as well. We compete against these other products, and if consumers only hear and read about these other products we could lose market share. Co-chairmanship allows us to be instrumental in the form that the WCO takes, its activities and in encouraging others to join.”

No sooner was the WCO formed than it sprang into action. Chadwick comments,“We have collated, analysed and distributed the 2020 southern hemisphere forecast (in May); in October we will do the same for the northern hemisphere.

We have a video call arranged with all members in July in order to discuss activities going forward. In October we plan to have a virtual conference (it was planned to be a physical conference alongside the Fruit Attractions Trade Show in Madrid – but plans had to be changed).”

According to Chadwick, the key to boosting citrus sales is consumer awareness: “If one looks at growth over the past ten years, products such as avocado and berries have increased at a far greater rate than citrus. We plan to collate credible nutritional and health articles, studies and information so as to make consumers aware of the qualities of citrus.”

Outlining the benefits of membership, Chadwick explains, “There are two levels of membership—country membership for organisations that represent the citrus sector in that country, and associate membership for companies and stakeholders involved in the sector. The WCO will collate, analyse and distribute information to members. There will be annual meetings and conferences – members will have discounted registration fees. The networking across the global citrus industry will allow individuals and businesses to enhance their positions, learn from others and expand their businesses.”

The broader benefits to the agriculture sector include increasing opportunities for black growers. “Citrus is a technology- and capital-intensive agricultural sector. The CGA is addressing the black grower needs through the CGA Grower Development Company, which has assisted growers through extension, business management support, training and access to funding.. These growers will be encouraged (and sponsored) to attend WCO conferences and meetings so as to grow their knowledge and abilities, and their networks,” says Chadwick.

Already, the signs are emerging that citrus is once again coming into its own. “Driving around the industry it is noticeable that more citrus is being planted throughout the country. In particular there have been considerable developments in Burgersfort/Ohrigstad area (so much so that CGA created a new region). Hoedspruit, Boland (wine grapes replaced by citrus around Robertson), Eastern Cape (Sundays River, Gamtoos River and Fort Beaufort – Kat River). Most orchards have been established to soft citrus and lemons,” Chadwick concludes.

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