South African blueberry industry ‘on track’ despite difficult season
February 26, 2024

The campaign did not live up to expectations but wider access for South Africa-grown fruit is still on the cards

South Africa’s blueberry exports fell short of expectations in 2023, but industry leaders have said the fast-expanding business is still on track for further growth.

During the past season South Africa exported just over 22,000 tonnes of blueberries, short of the 25,000 tonnes initially forecast.

“We had some difficult conditions during the harvest which slowed down picking and packing,” said Brent Walsh, CEO of Berries ZA. ”We are also in a phase of introducing new varieties which positions us for long term growth.

“Our long-term forecast is still for considerable growth, and that is why we are keen to get access to the consumer markets of the East, and India is one example,” he explained.

According to Walsh, South Africa is far advanced in its efforts to gain access for its blueberries in India.

Final feedback is now awaited from the Indian authorities and the industry hopes to advance matters during Fresh Produce India in March.

The country has a growing blueberry industry and has in recent years recorded substantial growth in production.

Last year’s lower crop was disappointing, particularly because there was strong demand and good prices to be had in traditional markets.

“Our competitors in Peru were also affected and this was reflected in the strong market,” he outlined.

As the industry looks forward, it is hoped that South Africa will be able to conduct its first shipments to India as the new season picks up steam in July.

“This is assuming that the final agreements are in place by then,” Walsh confirmed.

“We can service the Indian market both by air and by sea, with some of our producers being in the north of the country and being able to ship their fruit from the east coast ports.”

In global terms South Africa’s blueberry production is still very small. However, growers in many parts of the country have in recent years invested in new plantings.

The Western Cape is still the major region of production and most of the fruit is shipped in containers from Cape Town or exported by air where this is required.