The South African guava industry is primarily based on a local cultivar called Fan Retief with a vivid salmon pink flesh. The cultivar derives from the original guavas brought to the Cape via Madeira by the early Dutch settlers in the seventeenth century.
As a tropical fruit with no frost tolerance, most of the industry is based in the Western Cape and also in the subtropical north of the country, like Levubu and the Mpumalanga Lowveld, but guava prospects are very different in these two production regions, according to Freshplaza.
The Western Cape has seen a renaissance in guava production, driven by the canning and juicing industries. The vast majority of the guavas produced in the Western Cape are meant for processing, of which about half are exported in the form of purée.
The particular pinkness of the guava cultivar Fan Retief is highly prized by international juice producers and is mostly unmatched by guavas grown elsewhere, with the exception of some Brazilian and Indian cultivars.
The big distinguishing feature of guava production in the Western Cape is the absence of a devastating bacterial soil-borne wilting disease that has wreaked havoc in the guava orchards of Limpopo and Mpumalanga, so much so that it’s estimated that there are but a handful of guava growers left in the Nelspruit area.
The entire guava industry is primarily based on the same cultivar, Fan Retief, which could put it in a precarious position if the disease were to spread southwards.
The Agricultural Research Institute’s Division for Tropical and Subtropical Crops had come up with a wilting disease resistant cultivar in 2000, the TSG2 cultivar, but since 2009 this has also become vulnerable to the disease. “We think that the disease has mutated,” says Salomie Willemse of the ARC in Nelspruit, who runs the facility’s guava gene bank with material from across the world from which she makes crossings to obtain a new resistant variety.
Her guava research also includes gamma radiation (which has resulted in guavas with better colour and fewer seed, which is what they’re aiming for) as well as attempts to germinate guava seeds in a medium containing a toxin of the wilting disease, in order to promote resistance.
Why the disease doesn’t occur in the Cape, is not known for certain, and it is too much of a risk to take the pathogen down there to test resistance. For this reason, guava trees may not be moved from the north to the south of the country.
The soft pink guava though, particularly rich in vitamin C which made it a prized item among the Portuguese and Dutch seafarers, is well-loved in South Africa in all its forms (fresh, juiced and dried).
To read more about how water scarcity impacts the fruit industry click here.