Yesterday evening the European Commission imposed even stricter import requirements for South African citrus fruit to Europe. This follows a pre-existing European Union (EU) ban on South African citrus products instated last year.
Former Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, Tina Joemat-Pettersson's failure to contain the citrus black spot epidemic and Minister of Trade and Industry Rob Davies' inability to reassure the European community that everything will be done to prevent black spot from spreading are to blame for this dire situation.
South Africa is the world's biggest exporter of oranges and the largest shipper of grapefruit and it is estimated that we are responsible for 70% of the EU's citrus consumption. The citrus black spot outbreak undoubtedly poses a significant risk to our economy, international reputation and even food security.
Currently, the citrus industry employs 40 000 permanent workers and an additional 40 000 seasonal workers. This ban is jeopardising 80 000 local jobs and could cost the country over R13 billion per annum.
Last year, the DA urged Minster Joemat-Pettersson to prioritise animal disease and pest control measures. This was in light of an EU delegation's visit to assess whether sufficient disease control measures were in place. In their subsequent report, the delegation highlighted that there was still a clear lack of sufficient control measures in South Africa and the enforcing authorities were not sufficiently empowered to act by existing legislation.
Minister Pettersson's disastrous tenure as Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Minister was characterised by inactivity, incompetence and poor policies which have incapacitated this portfolio and jeopardised our nation's food security.
At the earliest available opportunity in the fifth Parliament, the DA will request that the new Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, Senzeni Zokwana, tables a comprehensive plan on how he will rectify the regulatory legislative lacuna that currently exists within his department. Furthermore, he must explain how he intends to restore South Africa's exporting reputation.
The time for ignoring our calls for greater pest control measures is over. Government must now act. We urge Minister Zokwana to prioritise this issue, if not for our economy's sake, then for the millions of South Africans that rely on this sector for a livelihood.
Annette Steyn, Shadow Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries