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Why Tanzania needs to invest more into avocado production

Sunday May 16 2021
Avocado pic

An avocado grower inspects his farm. The crop has huge potentials to earn Tanzania millions in forex. PHOTO | FILE

By Saumu Jumanne

Tanzania is blessed with a diversity of fruit trees. One example is that of avocado trees. According to available information, this fruit originates from Mexico, and it was introduced in Zanzibar in 1892, and then its cultivation increased extensively in the 1900s.

Eating avocados is always cool. It remains our traditional appetizer that goes with any food. Boarders in schools enjoy it a lot.

The yummy fruit is a refreshment that adds great taste to the food. For years, in Tanzania, it has been a by the way crop, for home consumption. But in recent years things have changed. According to a 2019 study by Tanzania Investment Centre (TIC) and East Africa Trade and Investment Hub, avocado has been transformed to be an important earner of forex for Tanzania and a source of edible oil.

The report notes that there is a huge avocado’s potential to fill up the edible oils’ gap in Tanzania, which stands at Sh676.2 billion ($294 million)! Investing in the fruit for edible oil production can go a long way to slash the 320,000 tonnes of annual cooking oil import.

And for forex earning, as they say, the sky is the limit. Our neighbour Kenya in 2021 is ranked 8th globally in avocado production. Media reports indicate in the first 3 months of 2021, it exported 26,481 tonnes of avocado.

A brochure by Southern Agricultural Growth Corridor of Tanzania (Sagcot) notes that in 2017 Kenya was the 6th largest exporter of avocados by volume and Tanzania was ranked 20th largest supplier.

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A story in The Citizen last year called avocados ‘green gold’, which was bringing in at least $12m annually. Last week, Tanzania Horticultural Association’s (Taha) executive director Jacqueline Mkindi noted that coffee prices were dropping globally and avocados were becoming the next green gold. The prices are higher and there is increasing demand.

Available data shows Mbeya, Njombe, Songwe, Iringa, Kilimanjaro, Arusha, Tanga, Kigoma, Kagera and Morogoro are the potential regions that grow the new ‘gold.’ Those areas combined have millions of small-scale farmers, who if well organized they can grow avocado to new levels for export. This will make Tanzania ranked among the key producers of that important fruit.

In Kilimanjaro, for instance, Taha has come up with the idea of an ‘avocado cluster in the northern zone’ - where smallholder farmers come together and produce large volumes for the export market.

This should be the way forward for all avocado growing regions.

If the world is crazy about avocados, and the demand is ever on the rise, Tanzania has enough land to satisfy that demand. So farmers will be able to produce more and supply for the world. But we will need to be very organized.

A long time ago when our farmers started planting coffee, tea, sugar and other cash crops, it was the analogue era.

There was no internet. But today, as our farmers take up avocado farming, it is the digital era.

How our farmers going to take advantage of the development of science and technology?

Traditionally, our farmers make no money or make very little in the agriculture value chain.

Mostly, it’s because as they work on their farms, it is always a game of chance. But there are modern farmers in Tanzania, especial the investors, if they plant beans, they know where to sell them and some had already secured a contract.

Yes, the market for avocados is there in China, Europe and America, but how organized are we as a country so that we can help our smallholder farmers to capture it?

Moreover, as more and more invest in avocado production, policies are needed to ensure that water sources are protected as this crop is water intensive.

That is food for thought.

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Saumu Jumanne is an Assistant Lecturer, Dar es Salaam University College of Education (DUCE)