Farming of avocado, known as green gold, on the rise in Africa
In East Africa and Nigeria, avocado farmers want to enter the insatiable export market. Due to high global demand, the avocado has become a lucrative export product.
The per capita consumption of the fruit increased by 406 % between 1990 and 2017 in the US alone.
The so-called green gold is rapidly gaining popularity on the African continent. Both Nigeria and Uganda aim to drastically increase their avocado production and become top exporters in the next decade.
Kenya is already among the global top 10. Export revenues in the East African country surged by a third between 2019 and 2020. Farmers are hailing the crop as an antidote to poverty in rural areas.
But the sought-after fruit has been making negative headlines around the world. Water shortages and the destruction of biodiversity have been linked to its production. The environmental issues have cast a dark shadow over the commercial farming of avocados in Latin America's top exporting countries, such as Mexico and Chile.
But African avocado farming is promising a brighter future, according to both farmers and scientists. Due to an emphasis on smallholders and beneficial rain patterns, the crop's production is expected to be less environmentally harmful than on the American continent.
Avocados are highly nutritious. About 64 percent of the fat in avocados is monounsaturated, which lowers LDL (bad) cholesterol levels, reducing the risk of a heart attack or stroke.
They're rich in blood-pressure-lowering potassium and fiber. Half an avocado contains almost 5 grams of fiber, about 20 percent of the amount you need in a day. Plus, they supply decent amounts of folic acid and vitamins B6, C, E, and K.
They also contain the carotenoids lutein and zeaxanthin, which are linked to eye health and help to give the fruit’s interior its color.
Avocados the new oil?
"Avocado is actually a godsend because farmers can use it as an alternative to coffee farming," Sammy Carsan, agroforestry scientist at the World Agroforestry Center in Nairobi, told DW.
In recent years, fierce competition between large retailers has driven down coffee prices. In 2019, coffee farmers' earnings dropped to their lowest in 13 years. Now, hopes are high for avocado to fill the income gap.
According to The Guardian newspaper in Nigeria, former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo called the fruit "the new oil of Nigeria" during a meeting with members of the Avocado Society of Nigeria (ASN) late last year.
The politician-turned-avocado-enthusiast is the largest stakeholder in the society and owns 20 hectares of Hass avocado farming land himself — the avocado variety most commonly used for exports.
In Uganda, the Agriculture Ministry recently partnered with Musubi Farm, hoping to start commercial export next year. Musubi is already employing 1,000 people from the local community. "We are also financially supporting a local school and are providing land for a local police force in order to deal with crime in the community. Avocados can transform our community," said Ssengendo, the director of communications.
According to the Water Footprint Network, it takes 2,000 liters of water (528 gallons), or 10 full bathtubs, to grow just one kilo of avocados. Planting the fruit has been linked to water shortages in Chile, for example, where farming has affected water availability for human consumption.
In Uganda and Nigeria, avocado farms are mainly located in areas with beneficial rain patterns, according to Sommaruga.
Frequent rainfall means farmers do not have to rely on irrigation systems, which artificially apply water to the soil. "In smallholder settings, avocado is produced on a rain-fed basis with few irrigation systems," Carsan said about avocado farmers in Kenya.