Cape Mangoes is developing a new mango variety
South Africa’s only mango producers when the northern season is over
At a time when the mango season in South Africa has basically finished, consumers can still buy freshly picked mangoes – from the Cape! Mangoes are being harvested in the Clanwilliam area in the Western Cape, more known for its rooibos tea and citrus industries.
Bernie van den Heever of Cape Mangoes took the unusual decision twelve years ago, after working as an irrigation designer for Westfalia in the Lowveld, to return to the Cape and establish a mango orchard in the Western Cape. With very little capital to his name, he did intensive research into the microclimates of the region and eventually procured a farm that would meet the requirements of a mango orchard with one significant exception – very little rain in summertime.
His orchards of 54ha are wholly irrigated and in the hot, dry climate of Clanwilliam the disease load is much lower than in the humid Lowveld summer. However, the sun is fierce and to protect the fruit against sunburn about half his orchards are covered by a particular type of netting, one he designed himself. It appears blue, a colour that he says blends better with the landscape, due to its bespoke composition of 25% blue, 25% white and 50% black fibres.
He has a small amount of Tommy Atkins, just to start off the harvest, but concentrates on mid-season varieties like Kent and the late-season mangoes he is currently picking, like Heidi and Sensation. This will be followed by Keitt. As with other fruit, like citrus, the Western Cape’s season is later than the northern South African provinces like Limpopo and Mpumalanga, which makes him one of a handful of mango producers in the country when northern producers have finished.
His marketing options are therefore wide open: he delivers to the big retailers like Pick n Pay, Freshmark and Woolworths, as well as to the largest fresh produce markets in Johannesburg, Pretoria, Cape Town and occasionally Durban. Last year he produced approximately 1 000t. He has exported two containers to Germany but is investigating the possibility to expand that side of the business.
Van den Heever was alerted to an unusual mango growing in a garden in Clanwilliam which he sent to the Agricultural Research Council which confirmed that it was, indeed, a new variety to which he has since acquired plant breeders’ rights and given the name of Tropica. “It is currently being evaluated in Spain and in Hoedspruit [Limpopo Province]. We think its parents are Heidi and Sensation and it has inherited the best of both parents: its skin isn’t as sensitive as Heidi’s, which is the reason why Heidi can’t be exported, and it doesn’t have the internal quality problems of Sensation.” He sees an opportunity to export Tropica to the EU at this time of year when other South African mango exports have come to an end.
The first commercial block of 8ha will be planted this year. Van den Heever is working with Citrogold in the evaluation and management of this new variety. Together with 4ha of other varieties, this will bring his mango capacity to 66ha.
Van den Heever believes in diversification as a way of spreading risk and extending employment on the farm throughout the year. Most of the Keitt harvest is sent for processing into fruit salad (South African consumers are still reticent about greenskinned mangoes) and, on the farm, a fruit drying plant has been set up. Dried mangoes are marketed to wholesalers and individuals. Dried fruit rolls, very popular in South Africa, are manufactured, not only of mango but also apricot, strawberry, fig and guava. Furthermore, there is an agreement with a nearby grenadella (passion fruit) producer to pack and market the fruit under the brand Cape Passion Fruit.
And it can’t be a Clanwilliam farm without rooibos: there is 90ha of the fynbos plant endemic to the region.
Van den Heever is an irrigation expert and in following a biological approach to farming and soil health, he also pursues precision irrigation. “I can’t remember when last we had rain,” he says, adding that the Clanwilliam Dam is currently only 11% full. Fortunately he also has access to boreholes.
Another mango grower in the Clanwilliam area is Jamaka Organic Farm which has 15 000 mango trees, predominantly of the Sensation variety because of its large yield, and is continually expanding with new plantings. This enterprise started even earlier than Cape Mangoes, in the mid-1990s, after Jannie Nieuwoudt’s father tried his hand at some mango trees and found that they did very well on their farm Grootkloof. In 2000 the farm received its organic certification.
Here the trees bear very late and the mango harvest can extend as late as into August, mid-winter. Depending on whether it’s an on or off year, harvest can vary from 60t to 120t. (This year is an off year.) The primary marketing channels are retailers like Wensleydale Farms (specialising in organic produce) and Golden Harvest but when supply exceeds demand in these markets, Jamaka sends its mangoes to the conventional fresh produce markets where it is sold at a premium price, especially during wintertime.
Stakeholders in the regional agricultural sector have expressed concerns over the delay by Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) member states to harmonise seed policies, which they say is affecting access to and trade in seeds and animal breeds in the bloc.
The experts said the seed regulation harmonisation programme, started in 2015 to solve these challenges, is yet to be implemented.
According to the Alliance for Commodity Trade in Eastern and Southern Africa, access to quality seeds and improved animal breeds by smallholder farmers stood at 20 percent in the bloc.
The cumbersome and lengthy processes involved in developing and testing new seed varieties had hindered seed trade in the COMESA region.
A matter of priority
The majority of the region’s population depends on agriculture to earn a living, therefore, the challenge must be addressed by member states as a matter of priority. It is not enough to talk about improving agricultural production, food safety or increasing household incomes of rural poor; farmers should have easy access to quality seeds to achieve all these targets.
Besides, many countries in the bloc are always food-stressed and have to rely on food handouts from the World Food Programme when the region has rich soils suitable for farming.
So, it is crucial for countries in COMESA to align their national seed laws with the seed trade harmonisation regulations. Besides increasing access to quality seeds and improved animal breeds by farmers, the move will boost production and household incomes, ensure the bloc is food secure, and help cut on the region’s seeds import bill.
This requires political will and partnership between public and private sectors. However, countries must ensure they preserve local breeds that are resistant to weather vagaries, particularly with the onslaught of global warming.