Baboons discover ‘sweeter oranges’

2011-01-12 09:13

A troop of baboons has inadvertently discovered a new citrus

cultivar for a farmer in Western Cape.

Alwyn van der Merwe, production director of ALG Estates near

Citrusdal 200km north of Cape Town, said today the new fruit has proved to be

not only to be sweeter than normal oranges, but will also lengthen the season by

at least three weeks.

“Year after year the farm has been struck by a troop of baboons

which descended from the mountains,” van der Merwe said.

“The troop always selected one tree amongst thousands of trees in

one of our orchards and devoured all the fruit before our season really got


“At closer inspection we discovered that the brix (sweetness grade)

of this particular minneola, a soft citrus variety, was much higher than the

rest of the orchard and that it started bearing fruit at least three weeks

earlier than expected.”

The farmers then set about grafting some shoots of this tree onto

standard root stock and passed it on the Citrus Growers Association (CGA) at

Uitenhage, where the trees are now being multiplied in greenhouse tunnels.

“This process takes two years and as soon as we get the clearance

from the CGA the trees will then be tested in real orchards all over the country

for a period of four years before it is officially registered,” van der Merwe


ALG Estates cultivates 26 different citrus cultivars on 600

hectares from five farms.

The estate boasts the longest citrus season in the country – 10

months – and aims to produce citrus all year round within the next four


Recently the estate registered a new cultivar, the Swartvlei Late

Valencia, which now produces citrus until mid-December.

“We were lucky that the baboons’ acute sense of smell led them to

this particular tree. It was clearly a case of a spontaneous mutation in the

orchard, which would have gone unnoticed were it not for the baboons.

“I’m sure they will have a feast one day when we produce a whole

orchard of these early sweet minneolas.”

Last year ALG Estates won South Africa’s most coveted agricultural

prize, the National Farmer of the Year 2010, awarded yearly by the association

of Agricultural Writers of South Africa.

The estate is known in the agricultural world for its innovation

and contribution to the industry.


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