The Sunday Mail
IN less than two years, the coronavirus pandemic has adversely impacted livelihoods and businesses worldwide.
Even stronger economies have been negatively affected by the tough response measures introduced to curb the pandemic.
The export business sector is among the most affected as most countries witnessed a sharp decline in demand after instituting measures such as movement restrictions.
Whilst there has been this negative impact on a global scale, there are some sectors and products that have experienced a boon due to rising global demand.
Avocados are among the many export products that are emerging as winners from this pandemic. One of the effects that the coronavirus has had on people is improving health consciousness among consumers, particularly in developed economies as people seek foods that provide immune boosting properties against Covid-19. Currently, consumers are interested in superfoods, which are considered to be high in nutrients and low in calories, with avocado being touted as having high vitamin E, iron, potassium and niacin content.
The avocado fruit also has a high monounsaturated fat content, which makes it a good substitute for vegetarians or people without access to meat and dairy products.
This change in behaviour has resulted in increasing demand for avocados thereby presenting huge opportunities for Zimbabwean farmers. The diversified use of avocados in, for example, food and cosmetics is also contributing to the growing demand.
Avocados have many culinary uses from sandwich toppings to making guacamole dip.
Additionally, the avocado can be value added to produce cooking oil, cosmetics, and some soaps.
Avocado trade performance
The global demand for avocados has been steadily increasing for the last decade, and this trend is expected to continue.
According to Trade Map, avocado imports globally almost doubled from 2015 to 2020 from US$3,8 billion to US$7,2 billion.
Currently, the largest importers of avocados are the Unites States of America (US$2,54 billion), Netherlands (US$1,03 billion), France (US$518 million), Spain (US$318 million), Germany (US$371 million), and United Kingdom (US$346 million).
The Netherlands and the United Kingdom are already top importers of Zimbabwean horticultural products. Local farmers can use existing channels to introduce more avocados into these markets. Some promising markets for Zimbabwean-produced avocados in the European market include Norway, Portugal, Belgium, Poland and Spain.
In the medium to long-term, China and the rest of Asia are also promising prospects.
In Dubai, buyers who met local suppliers during an Outward Seller Mission organised by ZimTrade — the national trade development and promotion agency — earlier this year indicated interest in local avocados.
The buyers indicated that farmers who wish to supply the market must ensure they have enough quantities to sustain demand, which will require smallholder farmers to work in teams to produce enough quantities.
To easily penetrate European markets, Zimbabwean farmers can take advantage of the interim Economic Partnership Agreement (iEPA), which allows local sector players to enjoy duty free and quota free access to the European Union (EU) market.
Small-scale farmers can also focus on these markets because their market entry requirements are easily attainable compared to the EU and Asian markets.
Apart from these international markets, there is also scope for exporting avocados into other African markets.
According to Trade Map, top importers of avocados in Africa in 2020 were South Africa, Morocco, Egypt, Namibia, Tanzania, and Botswana. Most of these markets are easily accessible, riding on logistical advantages and bilateral as well as multilateral trade agreements.
South Africa is already Zimbabwe’s top trading partner and should provide a sound market for farmers who want to improve exports of avocados. For the rest of the markets with potential, local famers can ride on the AfCFTA (African Continental Free Trade Area), COMESA, and SADC trade agreements that offer preferential treatment in the reduction or elimination of customs duties.
Local farmers can also get best value from their avocados if they target exporting when Zimbabwe has an open window and is among the few remaining suppliers in world markets.
Global supply of avocados is highest from February to September, and local supplies can target this window to increase value of their export products.
In periods of low global supplies, especially in October and November, prices of small volumes of ready-to-eat avocados tend to increase to approximately US$15 per 4kg box.
Opportunities for Zimbabwean producers
Avocados, amongst an array of horticultural products, offer viable solutions for local exporters who are looking at increasing their export values. Given Zimbabwe’s favourable climatic conditions, avocados are being commercially grown in the Eastern Highlands, with export prospects to the rest of Africa, Europe and Asia.
According to Trade Map, Zimbabwe is the fifth largest exporter of avocados in Africa and there is potential to perform even better.
For Zimbabwean farmers, there is a need to ride on varieties that have been tried and tested in the market.
There are two main varieties of avocados produced and consumed across the world, which are Hass avocado and green-skinned avocados such as Fuerte, Bacon, Gwen, MacArthur, Pinkerton, Reed, and Zutano avocados. Around 80 percent of avocados produced and consumed worldwide are Hass, which also happens to be the main variety grown for export in Zimbabwe.
Compared to green-skinned avocados, Hass avocados are richer in fat and thus creamier.
Current Hass avocado production capacity cannot meet global demand because new Asian markets such as Japan and China have significantly increased consumption of the same. While local production for export is mainly being done by corporate entities, there is scope for small-scale farmers to contribute significantly to this sub sector.
There is an opportunity for small scale farmers in the Eastern Highlands areas such as Chipinge to benefit from the upsurge in demand in global markets.
Already, there are some smallholder farmers in Chipinge who have started supplying the United Arab Emirates market and this success story is expected to inspire other smallholder farmers to join the trade.
Allan Majuru is the ZimTrade chief executive officer.