Hundreds of thousands of avocado trees are being planted every year across Rwanda, as part of the efforts to make most of the fruit that fetches billions of dollars for some countries.
Rwanda’s avocado farming industry is quite young, having started about 10 years ago.
Despite this, avocado is one of the agricultural exports that are expected to increase exponentially so that by 2026, the volumes will triple to around 16,000 tons per year.
Considering the current trends in planting trees, some farmers even think that the projections will be exceeded.
“I think we will beat the targets,” Bonnette Ishimwe, the owner of First Fruits Company, a Kirehe-based avocado farm, told The New Times.
Partnering with farmers who offer their land to be used for collective avocado growing, First Fruits has planted 262 hectares of new avocado trees, 85 of which will be ready for harvesting in June next year. The company expects to extend its farming area to 300 hectares in the future.
A single hectare of avocado trees can yield up to 20 tons per year.
Just like First Fruits, many companies and investors around the country have planted new avocado trees that will be harvested within the next two to three years. Such companies include SOUK Farms, one of the largest growers and exporters of fresh horticultural produce from Rwanda.
SOUK owns one of the largest private avocado farms in the country. In an interview with The New Times, Seun Rasheed, the company’s managing director, spoke about the “big foreign market” that the fruit has.
“Some big companies in Europe and the Middle-East can import up to 15-20 containers a week. One container has about 24 tons. That means that on a weekly basis, a company can import almost 200 tons,” he noted.
“Our biggest issue currently is actually supply,” he added.
Rasheed hinted on Rwanda’s advantage on the global avocado market since its harvest season complements key exporting countries. The local harvest season starts around September and ends in March or April, a time when countries like South Africa and Kenya are not producing.
“And even when you consider South American countries like Mexico, Peru and Colombia, they are not producing when we are producing. Their season is somewhat close to that of South Africa and Kenya,” he noted.
Assinapol Ndereyimana, the acting horticulture program coordinator at the Rwanda Agricultural Board (RAB), told The New Times that people are interested in avocado farming and RAB is putting in effort to support them, especially in terms of technical know-how.
“Many people are interested, especially those with big pieces of land. There are also some with small pieces of land who are deciding to combine them so that they can farm collectively. For example, in Kayonza, there are farmers who put together their pieces of land to make a 400-hectare avocado farm,” he said.
In addition to agronomical knowledge, RAB provides seedlings to farmers, complementing the work done by agricultural organisations like One-Acre Fund, which is arguably the biggest supplier of avocado seedlings in the country.
Last year, for example, One-Acre Fund produced 450,000 seedlings for Hass and Fuerte avocados. They hope to produce the same amount this year.
As farmers continue to put effort into increasing production, there are issues related to the difficulty involved in having their farms certified for premium markets.
For instance, the European Union demands for strict requirements before it can certify a farm to send produce to its territory. Due to this, much of Rwanda’s avocado exports go to Middle-East countries because they have more lenient certification requirements.
In addition to this, Rwanda mostly depends on air-freight which carries less volumes.
“Even if you were to fill up a whole plane with avocado, you might only be able to get 25 to 30 tons on one flight. There is a very big market out there and that market can only be served satisfactorily by sea-freight,” SOUK Farm’s Rasheed said.
In November last year, NAEB launched a program that will have Rwanda’s horticultural exports go to foreign markets via sea-freight. Though it has not yet picked up, the idea is that in the future, sea-freight will be leveraged to increase the country’s export volumes.
Avocados can be processed into various products including avocado oil and cosmetics. People in the avocado farming industry believe it’s a good idea to add value to their produce before exporting it. However, Rasheed says that first, the focus should be put on increasing the volumes that the country is producing as opposed to investing in infrastructure for manufacturing.
Besides, he said there is also a need to ensure that the produce from the farms is of good quality so that the “reject rate” is reduced.
Reject rate in this case refers to the number of fruits or vegetables that cannot be bought by the importing companies due to factors including their appearance or size, among other factors that do not meet their standards of quality.
“The reject-rate is high. We need to find ways of reducing it. An avocado can be okay on the inside but if it has a lot of black spots, it will not be exported. These spots might be due to farm practices that we need to improve,” Rasheed said.
According to NAEB, to leverage the full potential of Rwandan agricultural exports, there must be measures to strategically address challenges related to marketing, private sector investments, quality production and productivity, and airfreight, sea-freight, and ground logistics across priority value chains.
BY: Hudson Kuteesa