Failing land reform programme threatens litchi industry growth

Numerous failings within South Africa’s land reform programme, and the uncertainties this is causing, have resulted in no new investment taking place on existing litchi farms.

“An investment in litchi farming is made 10 years before a return is received,” explained Gavin Hardy, chairperson of the SA Litchi Growers’ Association. However, South African farmers will continue to improve production on existing plantings, while new cultivars will become available to improve competitiveness, he added.But without new investment in the national litchi industry, which exported 3 500t of its 4 000t 2009/10 crop, other litchi exporting countries could beat South Africa to new international markets, like China, warned Hardy.

“Our small industry generates some R100 million in foreign exchange, and is also labour-intensive. Our government is unaware, unconcerned and incapable of either perceiving the gravity of the threat, or of taking any action. Unlike everywhere else in the world, South African farmers receive no financial or any other support from government.”

Looking back, Hardy said early season litchi prices for 2009/10 were good. But prices later in the season, especially for the MacLean’s Red cultivar, were poor. Also, the world economic recession and the rand’s strengthening against other major currencies damaged litchi export revenues. “At this stage, estimates show that our 2010/11 crop will be similar in size to the 2009/10 crop. South African litchi yields per hectare are the best in the world. This is due to the superior skills of, and technology used by, this country’s litchi growers.”