Dar es Salaam. Avocado is a fruit crop that thrives in many parts of Tanzania, with the possibility of using it to free Tanzanians from abject poverty and improve families’ levels of nutrition.
Mbeya, Njombe, Songwe, Iringa, Tanga, Arusha, Kilimanjaro, Kigoma, Kagera, Katavi and Morogoro are popular regions for avocado production in the land.
A report by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) says that 19,449 tonnes of avocados were produced in 2016/17.
The Tanzania Private Sector Foundation (TPSF) says in its report that 5,551 tonnes of Tanzanian avocados worth $8.5 million were traded in Europe, Africa and Asia in 2018.
Different sources show that the value of avocado exports from Tanzania in 2019 had increased eight-fold compared to the value recorded in 2013.
The trend strengthened Tanzania’s market share from 0.1 percent to 0.4 percent, with the International Trade Centre (ITC) commending the move.
Rungwe Avocado Limited and Africado Limited jointly produced a total of 5,000 tonnes with small scale farmers dishing a small part of it.
Poor avocado production by Tanzanian farmers denies them prerequisite benefit from the fast-growing sub-sector.
Speaking in an interview with The Citizen, a fruits researcher at the Tanzania Agriculture Research Institute (Tari-Uyole) in Mbeya Region, Mr Daud Mbongo, said the crop could be grown all over the country.
“It is a crop that thrives in all regions of the country including the Coast and Dar es Salaam regions provided the water table isn’t close and its soil doesn’t allow water retention,” he said.
He said the crop thrives between 400 metres and 2,500 meters above the sea level and that varieties that could be grown vary as the elevation increases above the ocean.
“Kenya is second in avocado production in the continent behind South Africa, while Tanzania is third. However, most avocado exported by the neighbouring country are purchased from the Tanzanian market,” he said, adding. “Some changes need to be made if Tanzania is to fully utilise its potential in the avocado business.”
According to the researcher, Tanzania has different regions with appropriate weather for avocado production.
Speaking on the crop’s market, Mr Mbongo said the country hasn’t appropriately fed the saturated avocado market, blaming farmers for failure to comply with contractual farming agreements entered by companies.
“Despite signing agreements with companies, farmers at times do not honour the contracts. Instead, they sell the produce to other companies or individuals citing looming financial and family problems,” he said.
According to him, Tari-Uyole, would continue to educate Tanzanians through the Dar es Salaam International Trade Fair (DITF), Nanenane, radio, television programmes and social media in order to ensure more regions engage in the crop production.
Speaking during his work visit to Mbeya Region recently, Prime Minister Kassim Majaliwa said the government is finalizing talks with South Africa in order to allow Tanzania avocado to be exported to the southern African country without conditions.
“Once the discussions are concluded, farmers from Tanzania will benefit in the same way their South African counterparts benefit with the importation of apples that are saturated in the Tanzanian market,” he said during the launch of an avocado processing firm, the Kuza Africa Company located in Rungwe.
He urged Rungwe farmers to maintain existence of the investment as it assured growers of a reliable market of rejected avocado for export and normal consumption.
The premier challenged farmers in the area to prepare and leave inheritance of avocado farms to their children, saying it was an economic and education liberation to the future generation.
Speaking in Busokelo District, the deputy minister for Agriculture, Mr Hussein Bashe, said the government was finalising talks with China and India for avocados from Tanzania to be sold unconditionally in the two countries’ markets.
Challenges facing farmers
Farmers in Ng’anda Village, Wanging??ombe District in Njombe Region, told Mr Bashe that despite being motivated to grow avocado, the lack of better seeds and seedlings constitute some of the challenges they were facing.
Other challenges according to farmers were the absence of better extension services, unreliable markets and absence of strong farmers’ union that would advocate for their rights. Speaking at the village, Mr Bashe instructed the Tari-Uyole director, Dr Tulole Bucheyeki, to dispatch a team of experts to the village in order to start avocado nurseries and produce better seedlings for farmers and provide proper education to farmers.
He said the government was finalising talks with a South African firm for introduction of a logistics centre in Njombe that will open room for the crop to be sold at one centre.
“Improvement of the Dar es Salaam port would enable avocados to be exported through the gateway, a move that will attract more traders and buyers,” he said.
According to Mr Mbongo, Hass, Fuerte, Booth7, Uyole line, X-ikulu, Simmonds, Ettinga, Zutano, Tinkerton and Weisal are some of the avocado varieties grown in Tanzania.
According to him, the Hass variety that is abundantly grown in Tanzania is resistant to pests and diseases - and has plenty of oil. It can stay for up to 45 days after harvesting without rotting - and has high yields.
Mr Mbongo said avocados thrive at between 400 and 2,500 metres above the sea level - depending on their varieties, soil and rainfall levels.
According to the Tari-Uyole expert, places with close water table and soil for water retention are not favourable to avocado production as this causes its roots to rot.
“Tanzanians should grab the opportunity and start producing avocados in large quantities to enable them to transform their lives and improve nutrition levels of their families,” he said.
According to Mr Mbongo, the height, breadth and width of the planting hole depend on the soil - explaining that if the soil is hard, then avocado seedlings should be planted at a spacing of one metre compared to soft soil where two-to-two-and-a-half feet is the recommended spacing.
According to him, “63 seedlings should be planted in one acre of land at a spacing of eight-times-eight; 40 seedlings at a spacing of 10-times-10, and 28 seedlings at the distance of 12-times -2.
“However, seedlings should be planted in rows stretching from east to west in order to equally provide the trees with the opportunity to benefit from the sun’s energy,” he said.
Mr Mbongo also said that avocado trees are widely produced by Tari-Uyole, companies and entrepreneurs who are closely monitored to ensure quality of the produced seedlings.
Pests and diseases
Grasshoppers which attack avocado tree leaves are the major pests destroying the crop. But, Mr Mbongo said, the insects are controlled by use of industrial chemicals, namely insecticides.
The expert also said that it takes two-to-three years for an avocado farmer to start harvesting the fruits - but the crop’s commercial benefits would be realised five-to-seven years from planting.
He said one Hass avocado tree produces 230-to-320 kilogrammes of avocados per harvest season - but can at times produce 600 kilos.
The X-ikulu variety can produce up to 800 kilogrammes of avocados per season.
“Usually, exporters undertake the harvesting responsibility using modern equipment, not the traditional harvesting methods that adversely reduce the quality of the fruit,” he said.
Exporters choose the best fruits, leaving the rejects for domestic factories. Farmers could continue harvesting avocados from the trees for 40-to-50 years.
Mr Mbongo further said that, apart from buyers from Kenya, avocados bought by other companies including Rungwe Avocado, Kuza Africa, Oilvado, Tanzanite, Lima Kwanza and Africado Companies.
He said despite exporting avocados, the Kuza Africa and Oilvado Companies have been purchasing rejected avocados to be used as raw materials for the production of cooking oil.
Apart from the economic benefits for avocado farmers, avocado farming is essential in environmental protection, including reducing the impacts of climate change.