Fuelled by steadily increasing demand from both the local and international markets, the South African avocado industry is looking forward to a good year.

Derek Donkin, CEO of the South African Avocado Growers Association (SAAGA) reports that the industry expects 2018’s crop to weigh in at 125 000 tons. Half of this produce is destined for the export market, while 40% will be consumed locally in the form of fresh avos. The remaining 10% will be processed into foods like guacamole and avocado oil.

Donkin adds that, with the considerable health attributes of avocados having gained greater recognition around the world, demand for the fruit is on the rise. The South African industry is gearing to keep pace: At present, commercial avocado plantings in South Africa total 17 000 hectares a figure which is growing by approximately 1 000 hectares every year. This expansion ensures that the industry is able to accommodate the growing local and export market.

Although South Africa’s avocado season traditionally runs from March to October, plantings have expanded into areas where cultivars can be harvested through November and December. This not only means that South Africans can enjoy year-long availability; it also reduces the country’s reliance on imports from the Northern Hemisphere.

Donkin notes that, besides catering to consumer needs, the industry’s growth carries several advantages, including much needed job creation in rural areas.  Avocado farms, nurseries and packhouses currently employ around 8 200 permanent and 7 300 seasonal workers. Avocado production also creates significant employment for input suppliers such as fertilizer, implements, irrigation equipment and various other services industries along the entire value chain.

There are approximately 340 commercial growers, and 78 emerging growers. Moreover, SAAGA has engaged with local government in Limpopo and Mpumalanga in a number of initiatives aiming to upskill smallholders, while many commercial avocado growers are facilitating industry transformation by including greater participation from black farmers throughout the value chain.

South Africa has, traditionally, been one of the top three exporters to Europe and SAAGA is working with the South African government to gain access to markets in new territories like the United States, China, Japan, India, Thailand, South Korea, Israel, Vietnam and Mexico. Negotiations with these countries are underway.

The robust health of the export market has informed a number of new developments within the industry. Although green-skin avos will still be available in abundance in South Africa, Hass-type (dark-skin) avocados make up the majority of the new orchards that have been planted, as the international market shows a marked preference for this type. This has benefits for the local market, too, as South African avo lovers will also enjoy the presence of greater numbers of Hass and other dark-skinned avocados on the shelf.

The avocado industry is a significant contributor to South Africa’s economic growth, while thriving exports help attract vital foreign currency into the country.

Donkin predicts that these favourable conditions will continue. “With growing demand locally and globally, focused technical research and the continual adoption of the latest production technology, we are confident that the industry will go from strength to strength,” he concludes.