Pineapples are one of the most important subtropical crops cultivated in northern KwaZulu-Natal, the Eastern Cape and parts of the Limpopo Province and, on a smaller scale, the Northern Province. Pineapple exports from Limpopo are mainly from Vhembe and Mopani districts. In the past years, Sekhukhune district has been leading export region in Limpopo. Almost all (97%) pineapple exports reported in Limpopo province during 2015 were from the Sekhukhune district and the remaining 3% came from Waterberg district.
As it is indigenous to the tropics, the crop requires areas where the climate is warm, humid and free from extreme temperatures (25 °C being optimal). These areas have a great potential for pineapple production.
There are 5 major pineapple groups grown throughout the world. Two of these, Cayenne and Queen, are widely cultivated in South Africa.
Cayenne and Queen cultivars
The Smooth Cayenne cultivar is used for both canning (75 % of which is exported) and as fresh fruit. The Queen, because of its high sugar content and unsuitable canning qualities, is cultivated only for fresh consumption. However, because production of the Queen pineapple is more costly, fresh consumption is shifting towards the Cayenne.
Of all the countries where pineapples are produced, South Africa is the furthest south in the world.
Pineapples are grown worldwide mainly in the region between the two tropics of Cancer and Capricorn and temperature is the most important factor influencing growth, varying between 10 and 35 °C. Optimum is +- 24 °C (fluctuating between 20 – 28 °C). Most pineapples are produced on low altitudes (near sea level, below 500 m). Relative humidity is very important and that is why the most pineapple producing areas are close to huge water bodies ( = high humidity/ dew factor).
Pineapple production in South Africa is located in mainly two regions, namely the Eastern Cape and Northern KwaZulu-Natal (Hluhluwe district). Some new plantings were recently established in the Lowveld of Mpumalanga and Limpopo (Levubu).
Pineapples cannot tolerate frost. Rainfall average 650 mm/year which is far below the average required rainfall (1250 mm), but pineapples can adapt to negative circumstances and a crop can be produced at rainfall as low as 500 mm/year, as long as the highest rainfall occurs in the warm months and sophisticated farming practices such as mulching (plastic/organic) are applied.
Varieties produced are the Smooth Cayenne (Eastern Cape) for export juice concentrate and the Queen (mainly Hluhluwe) for the local and export fresh fruit market. The fairly new MD2 variety is planted in smaller quantities and will be produced for the fresh fruit market as well as for ready-to-eat products for export. Ninety percent of the fresh pineapples sold in South Africa are of the Queen variety.
Pineapple cultivation is very labour intensive – planting, harvesting and packing are all done manually. In the Cayenne industry planting and harvesting machines are sometimes used. The success of pineapple production lies in effective management – for fresh fruit production the aim is to be on the market every week.
Pineapples can be eaten as fresh fruit. Other uses include canning, pineapple concentrate, juicing, jam, wine, dried fruit, and pineapple fibre (downstream activities of weaving and designing). Some 80% of the crop goes to the processing sector though.
Source: Elmarie Rabie email erabie [at] mtuba.co.za