GROWING demand for chicory in South Africa is creating opportunities for farmers, both experienced and emerging, to enter the market of one of the Eastern Cape’s best agricultural commodities.
Governing body Chicory South Africa also promises farmers higher prices for their produce in the hopes of attracting interest and expanding the industry moving into the coming season.
Chicory SA field agriculturalist Loddie Greyling said the industry was growing sharply and active producers could not keep up with the demand.
“At the moment we have 23 farms contracted to Chicory SA,” Greyling said.
“The company has also been running five of its own production projects since last year, trying to keep up with the growing demand.”
The Eastern Cape is cornering the chicory market, with the only chicory farms and processing plant in the country situated around the small town of Alexandria.
Ground and weather conditions are ideal for chicory production, and Chicory SA’s plant is also the largest processing plant of its kind in the southern hemisphere, capable of processing 500 tons per day.
Chicory root, which has been produced for commercial use near Alexandria since 1895, is an ingredient found in many food products, including coffee and breakfast cereals, and is known to have a number of health benefits as it assists the natural digestive system and stimulates liver function.
Production fell in the early 2000s when local buyers opted to import chicory from India.
In the first half of 2013 not a single bag of chicory was sold, but toward the end of the same year the rand weakened and the next year local food producers were demanding large amounts of locally produced chicory.
Last season, Chicory SA produced 10 000 tons for commercial use.
“Last year, we had a poor harvest. This year things are looking a bit better as we stand on 16 000 tons,” Greyling said.
“But we will have to lift production to between 20 000 and 22 000 tons in the coming season. This means we will have to get more farmers involved and increase the land used for production.
“We have 1 200 hectares under chicory, but we will probably need in the region of 1 500ha moving forward.”
Greyling said the going rate for chicory would go up by nearly 30% in the new season, from R1 400 to R1 800 a ton.
The growing demand could also stimulate job creation, as chicory was very labour-intensive, needing at least one person per hectare.
“Fields need constant tilling to minimise the use of weed poisons. The climate allows for year-round production, creating permanent jobs,” he said.
Agri Eastern Cape president Doug Stern said the province was fortunate to have a niche market like chicory and needed to capitalise on being the only producer in the country.