“We’ve taken a bit of a hit with Covid which has brought watermelon exports to a standstill, but it’s starting up again, not yet back to pre-Covid levels, but I expect it to continue to grow. Exports have picked up very well,” observes Martin Michael, a watermelon trader at the Exec-U-Fruit trading agency in the Johannesburg Municipal Market (right).
Buyers for the tourism, catering and processing industries in Mauritius, Madagascar and Zanzibar buy watermelons all year round from South Africa.
At present, between 5 and 15 tonnes of watermelons are airlifted every two days to hotels and resorts in Mauritius in the Indian Ocean, where tourist arrivals have increased a hundredfold. from January to July last year to the same period this year.
After several months without connecting flights between South Africa and Madagascar (due to a diplomatic row between the two countries), watermelons are again being purchased in Johannesburg for catering and processing in Madagascar.
Demand for winter watermelons exceeds supply
The supply of watermelons is now, in mid-winter, at its lowest, but for the past seven years Exec-U-Fruit has got through the year with watermelons grown in Waterpoort, Musina and Tshipise (Limpopo province).
“I receive between 5,000 and 10,000 units a week and even that is not at all sufficient for the demand,” he remarks.
“Over the past four years, demand has increased by at least 65% to 70%.”
There’s always a risk of frost, so planting watermelons to ripen over winter is a gamble, but they’ve paid off over the past six years: In winter 2020, watermelons sold for a record 200 rand (11.9 euros) per unit.
Currently, it sells for 130 rand (7.7 euros) per watermelon.
“Watermelons weigh on average 10 kg, so we are looking at between 13 rand (0.77 euro) and 15 rand (0.89 euro) per kilogram. It is mainly 85% for processing, with watermelons cut up and placed in trays. Another 10% is bought by the catering industry and the remaining 5% goes to wholesale, where it is halved and sold for around R75 or R40 for a quarter of a watermelon.
“I try to increase my hectares every year because I never have enough supply and there is a huge demand. We will try to increase the hectares by 15ha for next season. Growers can take a very big risk planting for me, but it pays off. This has paid off over the past six years.