Thanks to two newly imported cultivars, South Africans can enjoy avocados the whole year round.

SA reaps rewards of global avocado binge

Booming avocado export markets spur major growth in area planted.

Rising global demand for avocados is spurring expansion of the crop in South Africa, which exports about two-thirds of its average annual production of 90 000 tons.

Commercial plantings of the healthy, delicious and versatile fruit in the country have grown by 1 000ha a year and land under cultivation for avocado production is estimated at 17 500ha by the South African Avocado Growers Association.

This year’s crop is expected to soar to about 125 000 tons. The avocado association forecasts that plantings this season will rise to 257 069 nursery trees from the 246 673 figure for the 2016-17 season. In the 2018-19 season, the number is forecast to rise to 377 177 nursery trees.

Most of South Africa’s 400 established commercial avocado growers are in Limpopo, Mpumalanga and some areas in KwaZulu-Natal.

These existing farmers were expanding their capacity and about 80 new growers had entered the avocado industry, the association’s CEO, Derek Donkin, said this week. In addition, commercial avocado growers were imparting skills to black farmers in an effort to support transformation.

Donkin said the growth in the local industry was a result of increasing appreciation across the world of the nutritional benefits of avocados and the diverse ways in which they can be used.

“The healthiness of the fruit, its uniqueness and the worldwide trend towards healthy eating has been very positive for the industry.

“Avocados can be used in all sorts of diets: Banting, vegan and ordinary. The price of avocados has also increased as demand has increased,” he said.

China develops a taste

Technomic, a Chicago-based foodservice research consultancy, said avocados had evolved into a “trending ingredient worldwide”, particularly in China, where it is commonly known as “butter fruit”. Avocado sales to China are expected to more than double this year due to demand from its growing middle class.

Donkin said: “Just like any farming enterprise, avocado growers remain wary of the impact that pests pose to their crop, the effects of drought and the difficulty of access to export markets.”

Simon Tattersall, MD of Afrupro, a Tzaneen-based avocado exporter, said “extremely high volumes” of avocados were expected to be produced in South Africa this year.

“In our group, we are up about 100% to 120% in our volumes.

“But I don’t think we will see the pricing from last year on the export front. Volumes are higher and the rand has strengthened,” he said.

Thanks to two newly imported cultivars, South Africans can enjoy avocados the whole year round.

Treat for the Dutch

Tattersall said Europe remained the most lucrative market for avocado growers in South Africa, especially the Netherlands, the UK, Spain and Germany. Namibia and Russia also accounted for a big share of South African avocados. Last year the Netherlands was the biggest export market for South Africa, importing 29 824 tons, while the UK was second with 9 503 tons.

“We are major exporters to Europe and our export volumes are similar to Israel’s. South Africa supplies about 13% to 15% of the UK’s avocados,” said Donkin.

The avocado industry earned nearly R2billion in foreign exchange last year.

Uptick in demand

The worlds’ largest exporters of avocados are in Latin America. Mexico leads the ranking, followed by the Dominican Republic and Colombia.

Wandile Sihlobo, an agricultural economist and head of agribusiness research at the Agricultural Business Chamber, said South Africa’s avocado industry had grown significantly from levels of just under 70 000 tons a year in the early 2000s.

Top 10 importers of SA avocados

“The key driver behind this has largely been an expansion in the area planted, which in turn was supported by an uptick in both domestic and global demand,” said Sihlobo.

“The robust uptick in avocado production is largely a response to growing demand for South African avocados both in the local and global market.”

But he said the volatile trend in exports over the last few years was a mirror of global demand factors. South African avocado exports have been solid over the past seven years, but did decline due to drought conditions. “Exports should recover as global demand is expected to remain strong.”

In the 2015-16 season South Africa was hit by drought and a hailstorm in the Tzaneen area that knocked the fruit off the trees.

Its uniqueness and the trend towards healthy eating has been very positive for the industry Derek Donkin Avocado Growers Association CEO.

Sunday Times: 1 Apr 2018 – By RAY NDLOVU
Picture: Gallo Images