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South Africa’s Fruitful Surge: Apple and Pear Exports to China Defy Odds with Record Growth

In the face of adversity brought about by adverse weather conditions, South Africa’s apple and pear industry has emerged as a shining beacon of resilience and growth. Hortgro, the organization at the forefront of this sector, has recalibrated its export forecasts for 2023 due to challenges like hailstorms and floods earlier in the year. Despite these hurdles, South African apple and pear exports to China are on a counter-trend growth trajectory, defying expectations and showcasing the industry’s adaptability and strength.

Revised Export Projections

The revised export estimates for South African apples and pears for the 2023 season stand at 40.883 million cartons and 17.195 million cartons (12.5 kilograms per carton), respectively. While this represents a decrease of 10% (4.375 million cartons) for apples and 19% (4.002 million cartons) for pears compared to the previous year, it’s essential to understand the context in which this decline occurs.

Challenges Faced: Hailstorms and Flooding

South Africa’s main apple and pear producing regions were hit by severe hailstorms in the final months of 2022. The Langkloof region, responsible for pear production, endured additional hailstorms in March 2023, impacting both pear quantity and quality. Furthermore, the Western Cape province experienced heavy rainfall and strong winds in June, although by that time, apple and pear harvests had concluded, and the fruit was safely stored in cold storage facilities.

Varietal Insights

Among the various apple varieties, substantial decreases are expected for Golden Delicious, Granny Smith, Braeburn, and Cripps Pink, with estimated year-on-year reductions of 24%, 19%, 18%, and 17%, respectively. Notably, shipments of Fuji apples, a favorite in the Chinese market, are forecast to decrease by 12% to 3.953 million cartons.

In the pear category, South Africa’s most produced varieties, Packham’s Triumph and Forelle, are anticipated to see declines of 8% and 15%, respectively. The Cheeky variety, a hit with Chinese consumers, is expected to have an export volume of 581,000 cartons, reflecting a 21% decrease from the previous season. While several other pear varieties are also forecasted to decline, the Doyenne Du Comice variety is expected to experience the most significant drop at 54%.

Rising Exports to China

Despite the overall decline in South African apple and pear exports, the Chinese market has become a beacon of hope. South African apple exports to mainland China, as of week 29, had surged by a remarkable 20% compared to the previous year, reaching 1.038 million cartons. Among all varieties, Fuji apples led the way with an export volume of 581,000 cartons, marking a 10% year-on-year increase.

The journey to success in the pear category was equally remarkable. South Africa’s first-ever pear shipment to China in September 2022 set the stage for an exceptional year in 2023. The cumulative export volume of South African pears to mainland China had reached 180,000 cartons by week 29, equivalent to approximately 2,250 metric tons—four times the previous year’s total export volume. Forelle, Cheeky, Packham’s Triumph, Abate Fetel, and Celina are among the main pear varieties exported from South Africa to China, with Forelle commanding the largest export volume.

Thriving Trade with Hong Kong

South Africa’s exports to Hong Kong also witnessed rapid growth during this period. Apple exports to Hong Kong soared by 82%, with Royal Gala/Gala apples leading the charge with an astounding 210% year-on-year increase. Pear exports to Hong Kong followed suit, experiencing a substantial increase of 60%, with the Cheeky variety witnessing an exceptional 970% boost in export volume.

Emerging as China’s Apple Supplier

Customs statistics underscore South Africa’s prominence as China’s second-largest apple supplier, following New Zealand, in 2021. In 2022, South Africa’s apple exports to China surged to 17,200 metric tons, a 41% year-on-year increase, accounting for 18% of China’s total apple imports. South Africa’s counterseasonal apple supply, which complements China’s harvesting season, has been a driving force behind this steady growth.

Pear Export Advantages

South African pears enjoy year-round export potential due to advanced controlled-atmosphere technologies and cold storage facilities. Forelle and Packham’s Triumph are highly sought-after varieties in China, known for their exceptional taste and quality.

In conclusion, South Africa’s apple and pear industry is navigating through challenges with resilience, witnessing remarkable growth in exports to China and Hong Kong. This trend showcases the industry’s adaptability and ability to thrive in the face of adversity, marking a bright future for South African fruit exports in the region.

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