Last year about 38 million 10kg bags of onions were sold on South African local markets. 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. These figures exclude onions delivered directly to supermarket groups such as Freshmark (for Shoprite Checkers) and Woolworths.
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.
Of these production areas, only the Western Cape exports onions because it produces brown onions, intermediate-day varieties, which have a longer shelf life than white onions. Between 2011 and 2012 exports to the European Union dropped dramatically (from 549 947 to 39 235 10 kg bags) because South African producers were unable to compete with European growers who receive government subsidies, coupled with rising input costs in dollars and a weakening Rand. Last year, according to the Ceres onion producers organisation Korkom, 4 145 896 bags were exported to the EU (although this figure also includes onions marketed directly to South African supermarkets). The figure is estimated to rise by about a million bags this year.