HISTORY OF FIGS IN SOUTH AFRICA
The production of figs for fresh consumption is a relatively new agricultural practice in South Africa.
Figs produced for drying and processing has a much longer history. A census conducted by the Deciduous Fruit Board in 1946 found that there were 618,000 fig trees planted, which was 4,6% of the total of 13,344,000 deciduous fruit trees in South Africa. By 1960 this had declined to 73,000 trees or 0,4% of the total whilst other deciduous fruit trees had increased almost 25% to 17,161,000.
The Dried Fruit Board was alarmed at the continuous annual decline but at the time dried figs could be imported already packaged from Turkey for 54 cents per kg while it was paying local farmers 36 cents per kg making the imported figs cheaper at retail.
The DFB together with the canning industry encouraged the Agricultural Research Council to import better varieties to those in production for testing under local conditions in Citrusdal and Robertson. The ARC allocated a budget and imported several new varieties from California in 1970 and 1981. The trial commenced in 1973 and by the time it was concluded in 1991 there was very little interest from the farming community to plant figs for drying or canning.
In the early 1990’s fresh figs, which was for centuries a familiar sight and popular with consumers in countries of production around the Mediterranean Sea, also started being marketed in supermarkets in the UK and EU.
With this knowledge in the late 1990’s Keith Wilson investigated the feasibility of growing fresh figs in South Africa for export and in 2001 the best varieties from renowned fig expert Pierre Baud’s collection were imported from France and by the end of 2003 the first orchard was planted on Backsberg near Paarl with the first fresh figs exported by Colors to the UK in 2007.