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Why Europe's ash is good for South African diners

Exporters cope with closure of European airports by selling fruits, vegetables and flowers locally.

South Africa's farming is not the only business that has been affected. Flights from Europe that bring executives for meetings are gone. Air mail systems like Federal Express and DHL have been halted, meaning shipping lists, purchase orders and other necessary documents for international business are not being sent. Ships leaving South Africa have no clearance papers to clear their goods into Europe.

But South Africa has something that most of the rest of Africa does not: a strong domestic market, supported by a strong currency that has weathered the financial crisis in relatively good shape. So it is here that most of these perishable goods are being sold, and some producers are able to recover at least some of their losses.

According to Grinrod's Abraham, South Africa has the capacity to soak up most of the commodities destined for overseas markets for about three weeks. "South Africa is lucky, unlike Kenya, we have a strong domestic market, but more than three weeks of no air freighting and we will start to see producers fail. It would be a catastrophe."

If producers fail, it will be the workers, on little pay and no savings, who will feel the brunt of the crisis. And if this crisis carries on much longer, explains Muller of Forest Ferns, "we will have to downsize. That is the last thing we want to do, but it will happen if this situation does not improve in the next three weeks."

Academics at Johannesburg's University of Witwatersrand who study and map South Africa's export earnings were unavailable because they were at a conference in Europe, and like countless thousands, they are stuck there, waiting for the ash cloud to clear so they can fly home and start summing up the South African cost of Iceland's volcano.