Last year about 38 million 10 kilogram bags of onions were sold on South African local markets. These figures exclude onions delivered directly to supermarket groups such as Freshmark (for Shoprite Checkers) and Woolworths.
Of this number, 9.4 million bags originated from the Koue Bokkeveld (Ceres region in the Western Cape), 9.9 million bags from the Northern Cape while the Northern region (the Northwest as well as Limpopo Provinces) is responsible for roughly half of South Africa’s onions, with more than 16 million bags delivered to national markets during 2016.
Northern producers expect that 2017 will be a normal production year because of good rains during the latter part of the summer, while production estimates for the Ceres region are up with almost 3 million 10 kg bags. Much of South Africa’s onion production occurs at high altitude, 1 000m and more above sea level.
South African growers are also competing with onions from Egypt and India which, especially the former, are closer to the EU market.
Other Southern African countries are also serviced by the South African onion industry, although exact figures are not available, because such trade occurs on an individual basis at South African fresh produce markets (particularly at the Johannesburg Fresh Produce Market).
Domestic onions prices are under pressure as it is: currently onion prices are about 30% lower than last year this time due to ample supply. There is on average a 35 to 40% price difference between Western Cape onions and the white, short-day onions produced in the northern production areas. According to a market agent at the Tshwane market: “Cape onions are beautiful.”
Furthermore, South Africa is an onion seed producer, with a number of companies multiplying onion seed on contract for producers from as far afield as the Philippines and Japan, the Netherlands, India, North and South America as well as for the Southern African market.