All of South Africa’s large avocado exporting entities are chasing the holy grail of a year-round avocado supply through exploiting all climatic possibilities in the country.
Afrupro, which has its origins as an avocado and litchi growers’ cooperative in the Letaba/Tzaneen area, is getting closer to fitting all the pieces together to enable them to do just that. Apart from the packhouse outside Tzaneen (Afrupro Packers, where the Afrupro offices are now also situated), they are opening three more avocado packhouses in George (Southern Cape), Richmond (KwaZulu-Natal Midlands) and in the Mkushi District, in Zambia’s Central Province.
“We need to ramp up volumes as fast as possible,” says Simon Tattersall, managing director of Afrupro since April last year, “the major retailers overseas, like Lidl or Kaufland or Rewe, they’re putting large emphasis on their receivers, who are our clients, for a year-round supply of avocados. We’re aggressively expanding our grower base because right now, from an Afrupro perspective, we supply from March to July/August because our growers are concentrated in this area.”
Fortunately South Africa is large enough to provide a number of climatic variations, plus high-potential neighbouring countries like Mozambique, Zambia and Zimbabwe, all of which can be harnessed in obtaining continuity of avocado supply.
“Now we’re expanding to George: that gives us avocados from August to November. Iron Crown near Haenertsburg: that’s November, December, January. Ofcolaco: that’s going to come in January and February. KwaZulu-Natal: that will give us more Hass from August to November.”
Part of Afrupro’s project entails the rehabilitation of the former avocado producing area of Ofcolaco: it has a perfect avocado climate but the avocado orchards were decimated by Phytophthora in the 1980s and 1990s, when production moved to tomatoes, litchis and mangoes until today there are no commercial avocado orchards. New orchards are being established with, among the reliable Fuerte, also the new Maluma that provides a Hass-type fruit before main Hass volumes start. He expects that the first tonnages of Maluma will start coming in from Ofcolaco by the end of 2020.
Zambia, where commercial farmers are anxious for an alternative to wheat and maize (corn), there is enough avocado expansion to warrant a packhouse to be erected in the Mkushi District, where there are some plantings already, more to come, of Fuerte, Maluma, Hass and Pinkerton.
Afrupro is looking at making inroads into Mozambique and Tanzania and from the Chipinge District in Zimbabwe they have been approached by a number of avocado growers. Does he get the sense that things are picking up in Zimbabwe? “Absolutely.”
Apart from the three new pack houses, the pack line at Afrupro Packers will be replaced with a new packline from MafRoda and the entire pack house refrigerated by GEA Refrigeration. “At overseas pack houses the precool, cooling and packing facilities are refrigerated. It just takes your quality to another level.”
Brenda Greyvensteyn, marketing manager, and Simon Tattersall, managing director of Afrupro
Most lucrative weeks for avo marketing
In line with historical trends, Afrupro focuses on getting greenskin avocados to Europe from weeks 10 to 15. “By week 15 the market is quite saturated, then there’s a lot of Fuerte on the market, so on our Fuerte we aim to arrive up to week 15, and then starting again probably by week 21 when the market has cleaned out a bit.” In the meantime, they send the bare minimum to meet their programme commitments in Europe and the UK, as they start shifting volumes to Russia and the Middle East.
Hass, of course, starts a bit later: their target weeks are weeks 13 to 16 and then again from week 21 to 35.
“Right now we’re packing as much as we can to capitalise on the preferential pricing on the European market where Israel and Spain are finishing off. We’re packing around 80% Fuerte and 20% Maluma, the latter is traditionally later but we get early fruit from growers in the Tarentaalrand area around Tzaneen, and everything we pack is going to Rotterdam at the moment.”
Volumes up in a big way
After last year’s slump, Afrupro is rebounding strongly, an estimated 120% up on their 2016/17 volumes. “The entire industry will be up in a big way,” he says, noting that the current estimate of 16.5 million cartons could even be on the conservative side.
Afrupro Marketing looks after the local market too: between 35 and 40% of their volumes feed the local market, through receivers who ripen (as the case might be) and repackage for all of the major supermarkets, as well as consignments to the municipal markets.
For the moment South African consumers are still enjoying the benefit of being an avocado producer; avocados are reasonably priced in season but that could change when markets other than the EU, UK, Russia and the Middle East start opening up. “I think when trade opens with China there’s going to be a lot of pressure, price-wise, on our local market. People are moaning about paying R25 [€1.70] for a Pinkerton – I think that could go up to R40 [€2.73] or R50 [€3.41] an avo.”