The pomegranate has one of the longest cultivation histories of all fruits, having been central to the Middle Eastern diet since antiquity. Despite its role in art, medicine and religion, and the many myths that surrounded it, pomegranates remained a backyard crop that, until recently, were at most considered a seasonal novelty.

However, when the latest medical research confirmed pomegranates’ superfood status, it propelled this fruit to stardom and changed the ways it is produced and consumed.

Since 2000, there has been a marked increase in the commercial farming of pomegranates worldwide as consumers clamour to benefit from the vitamins, minerals and anti-oxidants that give pomegranate seeds their anti-inflammatory and anti-hypertension properties. Adding to the demand are claims that the fruit could have a positive effect on prostate cancer, heart disease and HIV-1.

The pomegranate is not an easy fruit to eat. Beneath its tough, leathery skin are hundreds of juicy, bright red, jewel-like arils (or seeds), held together by paper-thin membranes that are bitter and inedible. Getting the arils out can be time consuming and pomegranate juice causes stains that are difficult to remove from fabrics. But since the fruit’s health profile has risen, people are willing to make the effort.

“Pomegranates are currently ranked as the 18th most consumed fruit globally. It is expected to move to 10th place within the next 10 years due to the fruit’s health benefits, improved cultivar selection and convenient pre-packaging.”
– Pomegranate Association of South Africa

Fast facts 

  • Pomegranate trees take six years to bear a full crop.
  • Pomegranates yield between 20 and 30 tonnes per hectare.
  • The Southern Hemisphere harvest season is from February to April.
  • South African pomegranates arrive on the market one week earlier than produce from Peru and Argentina.
  • Cultivars grown in South Africa are ‘Wonderful’, ‘Acco’, ‘Kessari’/‘Bagwha’, ‘Hershkowitz’ and ‘Angel Red’.
  • Export volumes increased by 31%, to 4 173 tonnes, between 2014 and 2015.
  • The volume of pomegranates delivered to the local market increased more than four times between 2011 and 2016.
  • South Africa exports pomegranates to the EU and Russia (61%), the UK (11%), the Middle East (11%), Africa (7%), the Far East and Asia (7%), Indian Ocean islands (2%), and the USA and Canada (1%).

Although the demand for this niche fruit is increasing exponentially, worldwide supply is still very low. In the Northern Hemisphere, the largest producers are Israel, Turkey and the USA. In the Southern Hemisphere, South Africa competes with Chile, Australia, Peru and Argentina.

As growing demand creates more export opportunities, producers are finding ways to fill the seasonal window during spring and early summer in the Northern Hemisphere.

Although pomegranates are grown commercially in South Africa, it is still an emerging industry and research into production and post-harvest practices has been limited compared to other fruit types.

The fact that the market for pomegranates is growing, however, makes it essential to study this fruit in depth. In the interest of establishing and maintaining a competitive edge in the global market, there is an undisputed need to develop innovative, science-based tools and quality standards for the South African pomegranate industry. These should include effective post-harvest management in the areas of packaging, storage, transport and the detection and control of post-harvest diseases and disorders.

RESEARCH PROJECTS 2014-2017

  1. Integrated post-harvest innovative solutions for the South African pomegranate fruit sector
    Packed with vitamins, minerals and anti-oxidants, pomegranates’ status as a superfood is steadily growing. The increased demand, however, makes it essential to study this fruit in depth to provide science-based post-harvest solutions for industry.
    Read article:  Ancient fruit needs new guidelines
  1. Determining of the profile and epidemiology of post-harvest fungal diseases in the SA pomegranate industry with the phytosanitary assessment of risk related to market access and proposed solutions.
    A scientifically based post-harvest fruit rot manual for pomegranates will soon see the light, giving growers and exporters alike a reference source to consult when in doubt.
    Read article:  Taking stock of what plagues pomegranate