An oft-forgotten crop, the national chicory industry has been kept quietly on the boil in the Eastern Cape. Eastern Cape farmers annually produce between 18 000 and 20 000 tons of wet root, making the province the largest chicory-growing region in South Africa. Here a moderate climate, year-round rainfall and the right soil types combine to create a perfect seedbed for the crop. Chicory is chiefly farmed along the coastal belt near Alexandria, as well as in the Southwell and Bathurst areas around Port Alfred for dry land production. The Gamtoos and Sundays river valleys provide additional opportunities for irrigated cultivation. Farmed exclusively for the South African market, this versatile plant is consumed as a hot beverage on its own and in instant coffee mixtures, breakfast cereals and pet food. The root is used for beverages, while the leaves are added to stock feed and pet food. Chicory endives, a gourmet salad ingredient, are also harvested from newly developed, unopened leaf pods. High costs have however halted local endive production since 2002. The most widely planted variety is Orchies, due to its unbeatable wet root and dry matter yields. Numerous cultivars have been tested over the years but Orchies gives consistently better results over a shorter growth period than any other. Chicory is planted from imported seed and grows for seven to eight months before it is harvested and defoliated. The root is then washed, cubed and dried to a moisture level of less than 10 per cent. Once it has cooled down, it is packaged and stored for six to eight weeks before it is ready to be roasted according to client specifications. Eastern Cape producers provide chicory for brands such as Nestlé, National Brands and CTC, as well as SPAR, OK Foods, Pick n Pay, Shoprite Checkers and Dis-Chem. The Chicory Producers’ Association maintains the high quality of locally processed chicory through ongoing research into optimum production methods. The association keeps abreast of market trends and opportunities, as well as changes in legislation. The CPA is affiliated to Agri EC, Ecacon and the East Cape branch of the Agricultural Business Chamber and works in close cooperation with the Alexandria Farmers’ Association. Its ultimate goal is to build a sustainable and profitable industry that benefits both the farmer and workforce.