PUBLISHED ON January 12th, 2024

Avocado Gold: Africa’s Untapped Export Potential

Kenya is the largest African producer with 345,000 tons, followed by South Africa and Tanzania. Other major producers include Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, and Ethiopia. However, the potential is much greater. Avocado trees thrive in Africa’s climate, and production could easily double or triple with improved farming techniques and investments in infrastructure and technology. Currently, the majority of African avocados are destined for domestic markets. Less than 10% of production is exported.

African avocados have huge export potential, especially for European markets where demand is growing exponentially. Currently, Europe relies heavily on imports from Latin America and Israel. But Africa has advantages, including lower labour costs and proximity to European markets. AfCFTA, which eliminates tariffs on 90% of goods traded between members, could be a major catalyst for Africa’s avocado export industry. By reducing trade barriers between African countries, AfCFTA will enable avocado producers to access larger regional markets. Farmers will also benefit from economies of scale, incentivising investments that will boost productivity.

The African Development Bank has funded several avocado projects in East Africa through its Enable Youth programme. This includes supporting avocado farmers and youth agripreneurs in Kenya, Mozambique, Tanzania, and Ethiopia to boost their productivity, access markets, and develop value-added products.
The Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organisation (KALRO) has an ongoing avocado breeding programme aimed at developing new, high-yield varieties that are resistant to pests and diseases. KALRO is also conducting research on post-harvest handling, value addition, and integrated pest management for avocados.
The World Agroforestry Research Centre in Kenya is working with avocado farmers to improve yields through grafting, tree spacing, pruning, and nutrient management techniques. The research also focuses on on-farm drying, packaging, and value addition of avocados.

The South African Avocado Growers’ Association, in partnership with the Department of Agriculture, has extensive avocado R&D programmes covering new varieties, rootstocks, orchard management, post-harvest handling, food safety, and pest and disease control.

Several South African universities, like Stellenbosch University and the University of Pretoria, have avocado research initiatives focused on developing genetically modified varieties, using DNA fingerprinting to identify superior rootstocks and controlling diseases and pests like the false codling moth.
The Côte d’Ivoire Coffee and Cocoa Council has implemented an avocado revitalisation programme that includes research into high-yield, multi-purpose, and early-ripening varieties to boost local production and exports.

Lack of access to finance: Many smallholder farmers struggle to access the loans and capital needed to make improvements and investments that can boost yields and productivity.
Poor infrastructure: Gaps in road networks, electricity, irrigation, and cold chain infrastructure limit farmers’ ability to get their produce to markets efficiently and minimise post-harvest losses.
Pests and diseases: False codling moth, anthracnose, root rot, and other pathogens pose major threats to avocado trees and yields in many African countries. Farmers often lack the knowledge and input to effectively control these issues.

Limited use of technology: Most African avocado farmers have low adoption of technologies like GPS-based agritech apps, drones, soil sensors, and precision agriculture tools that can improve yields and farm management.

High post-harvest losses: Due to poor handling, storage, and transport, up to 40% of avocados produced in Africa never reach markets, representing major financial losses for farmers.
Weak value chains: Immature value chains, limited processing capacity, and lack of cold chains constrain farmers’ ability to access higher-value export markets.
Knowledge gaps: Many smallholder farmers lack knowledge of improved farming techniques for tasks like pruning, grafting, irrigation, and integrated pest management. Extension services are often inadequate.

Climate change impacts: Rising temperatures, shifting rainfall patterns, and more frequent extreme weather due to climate change present a threat to avocado production in Africa. Farmers have limited resources to adapt to these varying climates.
These are just some of the key challenges commonly faced by avocado farmers in Africa. A multifaceted approach that includes improved access to financing, research, technology, infrastructure, and extension services will be needed to help African avocado farmers overcome these obstacles.

Potential solutions to the challenges faced by avocado farmers in Africa

Increase access to financing: Governments and development organisations can provide loans, grants, and microfinance options targeted at smallholder avocado farmers. Subsidised credit lines and loan guarantees could also help.

Improve infrastructure: Investing in roads, irrigation, electricity, cold storage, ripening, and packing facilities will help farmers become more productive and profitable.
Strengthen pest and disease management: More research is needed into pest/disease-resistant varieties and effective integrated pest management strategies. Better access to biopesticides and other organic controls is also key.

Boost technology adoption: Providing incentives, training, and subsidies can encourage farmers to adopt technologies like drones, GPS, sensors, and data analytics that improve yields, farm management, and market access.

Reduce post-harvest losses: Improving handling practices, investing in appropriate storage and transport infrastructure, and using packaging technologies can minimise avocado losses after harvest.

Develop value chains: Supporting farmer cooperatives, outgrower schemes, and investments in processing facilities can help develop viable value chains that unlock higher export value.
Expand extension services: Governments and organisations can increase the reach of agricultural extension workers to disseminate knowledge on improved avocado farming practices to smallholder farmers.

Adapt to climate change: Developing stress-tolerant varieties, providing farmers with climate information services, and diversifying farm income can help them adapt to a changing climate.
Increase R&D funding: More funding for avocado research focused on African conditions, pests, diseases and varieties can generate solutions tailored for African farmers.
Leverage AfCFTA: The AfCFTA can help promote regional R&D collaboration, infrastructure investments, sharing of best practices, and a more conducive policy environment for avocado farmers and exporters.

With a comprehensive, multi-stakeholder approach involving the public and private sectors, many of these solutions could be implemented at scale to significantly improve the livelihoods and profits of African avocado farmers.

Market Growth Outlook

The global avocado market is expected to grow at an annual rate of 8% in the coming years. Demand continues to outstrip supply due to avocados’ rising popularity as a superfruit and ingredient in natural cosmetics, snacks, and restaurants. Africa is well positioned to seize more market share, combining competitive advantages, growing production, and trade integration under AfCFTA. With the right investments and policies, Africa’s avocado industry could emerge as an economic growth engine — generating millions of jobs, increasing farmers’ incomes, and transforming the continent into a major player in the global avocado trade. AfCFTA offers a vital framework to realise this avocado gold. The biggest question is whether African governments and businesses will capitalise on this untapped potential.

Read original article

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of TradeMark Africa.