SONA: Urgent Intervention needed to Fix South African Ports ahead of 2022 Citrus Export Season

In his State of the Nation Address tomorrow, the Citrus Growers Association (CGA) calls on President Ramaphosa to provide an update on government’s short-term plan to address the immediate challenges at South African ports, which pose a serious threat to the upcoming citrus export season.

Last year the citrus industry exported a record breaking 163 million cartons, sustaining 120 000 jobs and generating R25 billion in export revenue. However, due to ongoing operational challenges at the ports, that were compounded by the rioting and violence that broke out in KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng in July 2021 and the cyber-attack against Transnet later that month, citrus arrived way too late in many markets – in some cases by over a month, which severely impacted fruit quality and grower revenue. If this continues, the future profitability and sustainability of the industry will be under severe threat.

While government’s longer-term plans to turn around the ports, including a R100 billion infrastructure development project at Durban port and plans to secure private sector partner investment into the ports over the next few years is welcomed, immediate intervention is desperately required at the Durban and Cape Town ports to ensure citrus reaches key markets on time in 2022.

In this regard, we urgently call on government to prioritise the following focus areas as a matter of urgency:

1. Sufficient funds must be allocated to Transnet in this year’s budget to invest in critical equipment and personnel in order to ensure an immediate improvement in performance and productivity at the ports Container Terminals; particularly Durban Pier 1, Durban Pier 2 and Cape Town Container Terminals. It is critical that vessels move to and from the ports to global markets with constancy, regularity and reliably in 2022 – an essential part of the success in supplying fruit to receivers and maximizing industry returns.

2. Transnet and logistics partners must also plan and execute the receiving and despatching of trucks at the terminals with absolute precision in order to ensure the truck throughput is maximized so there is minimal downtime of this limited resource. Currently, the truck booking system at the aforementioned terminals is not proving to be beneficial in facilitating the efficient and effective movement of reefer containers, full and empty, through the terminals.

3. Reefer capacity was mostly oversubscribed at the Durban and Coega ports, which limited the ability to export citrus during the 2021 season. It is crucial that all stakeholders deliberate on the most optimal reefer capacity at each container terminal aligned to export forecasts for each region in 2022.

These steps must be prioritised and realised as a matter of urgency in the months to come, not only to avoid a repeat of 2021 but also to prevent shipping lines increasingly bypassing South African ports which not only robs growers of the opportunity to access all markets but also puts the entire economy at risk.

The CGA remains committed to working with government and stakeholders across the value chain to address issues affecting the ports, so that our industry is able to continue exporting quality fruit across the globe and remain a key contributor to the economy and jobs.

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