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Future Fynbos Afloat

Post Harvest Innovation Fund Sea Freight Trial in conjunction with Stellenbosch University

Distant markets such as the South African cut flower industry are subject to a myriad of obstacles when tasked with the export of goods. Air freight provides the fastest route to international markets, however, debilitating air freight costs, prioritization of other cargo and the lack of recent consistent take-off opportunities have plagued exporters.

Seafaring and the expansion of the fresh produce industry have developed a synergy that the growing, but niche, Cape Flora industry can model its approach to, for security and longevity.

Future Fynbos has been trialling the post harvest potential of Ayoba® cultivars as standard practice. And in 2018, being an industry stakeholder, the opportunity was presented by Dr Lynn Hoffman (Department of Horticulture, Stellenbosch University) to partake in a large-scale trial of reefer container technologies.

A standard reefer container as well as an AV+ (automatic ventilation) equipped Maersk container was loaded with 10 pallets each containing a variety of Cape Flora. Both containers were received at ColorigÍnz, Aalsmeer in The Netherlands after 20 days, including the 15 days at sea.

The product list consisted of; 14 Protea cultivars, 10 Leucospermum cultivars and 8 Leucadendron cultivars along with Brunias, Banksias, Berzelias, Phaenocoma and Staavia.


PRODUCT PERFORMANCE: Main commercial genera


Most medium sized Protea exhibited leaf-blackening and dirty fingernail syndrome at unboxing (Niobe, Sharonet, Sylvia, Red Magic). P. grandiceps was the only product in this class to arrive in pristine condition from both containers.

Magnifica (Queen) varieties (Didi, Ice Queen, Snow Princess) and seedling flowers all arrived in pristine condition and opened satisfactory during vase life trialling. However, where leaves were compacted against each other leaf blackening did develop in transit.

Cynaroides (King) initially was thought to have experienced the least stress in transit. Soon afterward the effects of severe moisture loss were noticeable in bract discoloration, curling and the failure to release bracts. Leaf blackening on inner packed flowers was apparent in pink King seedlings. Ayoba® Arctic Ice presented beautifully when unboxed, but also started displaying signs of severe moisture loss after three days manifesting as bract browning.

Sharonet at arrival after sea freight; Ice Queen at unpacking with compressed leaves; Ayoba® Arctic Ice vase life day 5 showing the symptoms of moisture loss.


Compression of flower heads overall appeared severe and heads were extremely wilted at unboxing. However, after hydrating overnight all 10 cultivars flower heads and necks were fully firm with minimal styles broken. The variety of hues were vibrantly coloured. Leaf drying and dessication across the board was more severe in the top layers of boxes, with inner packed stems having travelled better. Ayoba® Sun achieved and maintained a five-star rating, with minor leaf desiccation noted.

Jelena at arrival after sea freight; Unpacked Succession showing leaf dehydration; Ayoba® Sun day 7.


All Leucadendrons presented very well on the day of arrival, up to day five. The larger cones of Platystar formed necrotic lesions as a result of drying and developed an odour. The large cones of Ayoba® Sky exhibited fungal blackening in a patch-like manner while the rest of the stem remained perfectly intact. Similarly, Ayoba® Blushed Pearl and Ayoba® Jade Pearl developed visible sporulating colonies confined to a couple of cones. Severe fungal growth was found on Zettie, covering whole cones. Ayoba® Star Pearl was the most sensitive to moisture loss as slight leaf edge curling and yellowing occurred. Ayoba® Jade Pearl cones started opening on day seven of vase life thus presenting less neat. All leaves remained green as and all products maintained cone colour.

Zettie at arrival after sea freight; Unpacked Ayoba® Star Pearl, Ayoba® Blushed Pearl and Ayoba® Jade Pearl; Discoloration and fungal development on Ayoba® Blushed Pearl day 5 of vase life.


Product categories that have shown potential for sea freight export include Leucospermum and Leucadendron. High value Protea should be air freighted to avoid physiological issues developing through extended periods of suppressed respiration. No Serruria were evaluated since it was out of season, however, the product value still permits air freight.

The South African Cape Flora industry will need to familiarise itself with additional requirements for this mode of transportation. Pre treatments such as fumigation become necessary for extended voyages and as precautionary measure against fungal proliferation. Containerised product is also at risk of desiccation. A dehydrated leaf has a veiny appearance caused by sunken tissues around conducting vessels that can collapse to form brown to grey necrotic lesions. Preventative measures require further trialling.

Sea freight provides an attractive option for the export of increasing volumes of Cape Flora. This however, has been overshadowed by the inadequacy of South African harbours to rid itself of systemic issues. We are optimistic for future containerised exports now that the authorities concerned are in consultation with stakeholders.

During his State of the Nation Address on the 11th of February 2022 in Cape Town, President Cyril Ramaphosa stated:

“Our economy cannot grow without efficient ports and railways. Over several years, the functioning of our ports has declined relative to ports in other parts of the world and on the African continent. This constrains economic activity.

The agricultural sector, for example, relies heavily on efficient, well-run ports to export their produce to overseas markets.

Fresh produce cannot wait for days and even weeks stuck in a terminal. This hurts business and compromises our country’s reputation as an exporter of quality fresh produce. Transnet is addressing these challenges and is currently focused on improving operational efficiencies at the ports through procuring additional equipment and implementing new systems to reduce congestion.”