Alex Rose-Innes

Ugandan government to drive large scale avocado production

The Ministry of Agriculture Animal Industry and Fisheries in Uganda had embarked on a project to partner with growers across the country in order to grow large-scale avocado production. This would provide not only additional export income to large-scale growers, but involve communities and benefit small-scale farmers.

Large amounts of government resources would be allocated to meet increased production targets as the demand for avocados in Europe and the United Arab nations continue to grow. Thousands hectares of new land are to be developed for cultivating Hass avocados. Other favourite types are the Fuerte and Greenskins avocados. Most African countries grow the Hass type, a favourite in global consumption.

Avocado trees can produce almost 300 fruits per tree in a single year and could continue to provide a harvest for 50 consecutive years. With Africa being one of the biggest growers and exporters of this super fruit, it had become an increasingly important player in the industry and this project in Uganda is ideal to benefit its local communities and spur on other governments on the continent.

Kenya produces as much as 80 000 tons yearly, mostly sourced from community small growers, with Mozambique as a relative newcomer to the industry, already growing 1 000 tons per year.

South Africa’s (SA) annual productivity of 120 000 tonnes is one of continent’s highest yields. Tanzania produces 5 000 tons annually. Most of African products are pumped into the SA, European and Middle East markets. SA’s main markets are Europe, Russia, the Middle East and South East of Asia.

Many of the African avocados producing countries, including SA, use clonal root stocks which significantly decrease the necessity for phosphate treatments. These root stocks show tolerance to Phytophthora Cinnamomi, a soil-borne water mold responsible for an infection causing a condition in plants called “root rot” or “die back.”  Clonal root stocks had also shown to increase productivity and some seem to tolerance saline soil conditions extremely well.

Despite Kenya being the world’s third largest producer of avocados, the country only exports 10% of its total avocado production. By comparison, Chile exports 55% and SA 60% of production. Most of avocados in this country are grown by small-scale farmers for own use, local markets and some for export.

A study to understand why Kenya is under performing in this thriving market and investigated avenues of increasing community and small grower income, found that current bureaucratic programmes and policies were barriers to larger exports. Most rural communities across the African continent are poor and the high costs of harvesting, transport and farmers’ organisation transaction costs are too expensive for most small growers.

Africa’s many poor communities and farmers have limited access to the latest production technologies and institutional support such as credit and training. This leaves smallholder farmers out of important value chains. A lack of infrastructure such as poor road conditions also makes transporting produce very costly.

With the Ugandan government’s undertaking, small-scale avocado farmers could increase their incomes by almost 40% as locally produced yield fetches almost double on the world’s export markets than locally. This drive would bring more jobs to communities eradicating poverty and uplifting the poor. This could lead to a sharing of techniques to benefit not only the producer, but the country and the continent as a whole.

As with the Ugandan government, the Kenyan government also recently started encouraging more smallholder farmers to connect with exporters. However, this remained an important barrier at the time of going to print. To address this, the government should increase the provision of seedlings to small-scale farmers and institute proper training programmes.

Finally, farmers’ groups should be better organised to obtain credit and find lucrative additional export opportunities.