In a remarkable journey from orchard to international market, avocados have emerged as a lucrative venture, transforming from a simple crop to a substantial cash cow.
On the afternoon of January 12, a symbolic moment unfolded as horticulture exporters and industry officials bid farewell to a refrigerated container laden with 22.5 tonnes of avocados destined for Dubai, UAE, via sea freight.
The estimated monetary value of the avocados in the container surpasses $50,000 (approximately Rwf60 million), underscoring the profitability that this humble fruit has attained in the global market.
According to newtimes.co.rw, Avocados from Rwanda currently move to buyers from countries in different parts of the world, including Europe, and Asia.
“The demand for avocados at the international market is so huge that it exceeds by far the available supply—the demand is met between 30 and 40 per cent,” Robert Rukundo, Managing Director of Almond Green Farm, and Chairperson of Horticulture Exporters Association of Rwanda (HEAR), told The New Times.
“This is a major crop, which has registered a higher growth in terms of performance, meaning that it is a moneymaking commodity. It (avocado) is a tree you can plant and does not demand much care, but it gives you yield every season,” he said.
Over a decade ago, avocado was regarded as a crop for the rural people in Rwanda, with many lacking an interest in growing it for commercial purposes because it used to be farmed for subsistence, according to the export services division manager at National Agricultural Export Development Board (NAEB), Jean-Marie Vianney Munyaneza.
“I remember in 2012, we were pushing farmers to grow avocado. We [as the government] were buying seedlings, but it was difficult to get people to grow them,” he said, pointing out that some would argue that there were adequate avocadoes in Huye and Gisagara and they did not need to grow more.
“But they did not know the value of it. Today, I am very happy that we are no longer putting a lot of money in this value chain; it is now a private sector-led value chain. You can see that farmers are investing in this value chain themselves, by buying seedlings, fertilisers, and other inputs,” he said.
“We have had a saying [that] avocado is for those rural people. But now we are saying its green gold. So, why? Because we see the value of it,” Munyaneza said, adding “now we have more than 20 exporters of avocadoes. You can understand how the sector is growing.”
Not all avocado varieties grown in Rwanda are export-grade. According to information from NAEB, the most popular varieties of avocados for export in Rwanda are Hass and Fuerte.
Munyaneza said though the avocado subsector is a relatively new value chain in Rwanda, its exports have registered a high growth within a decade as they generated about $6.3 million—through selling about 3,200 tonnes to international markets (meaning that a kilogramme was about $2 on average)—which is more than 13 times the $440,000 annual revenue the country earned around 2013.
On the outlook, he said, “We project that the crop will continue an increasing trend such that we expect to reach 16,000 tonnes per year by 2030, which could generate about $40 million, considering investments being put into the sector.”
Interest in commercial avocado farming can be traced back to 2008 when some Rwandans went to countries like Kenya and realised that avocadoes were being exported abroad, Munyaneza indicated.
Then, the Government of Rwanda decided to make investments to trial the crop, with the first export-grade seedlings [of the Hass variety] sourced from Kenya.
Some farmers planted them with government incentives, including getting the seedlings for free, taking them to their farms, and giving them a technician (agronomist) to teach them how to grow them, Munyaneza said.
But when the early adopters started harvesting, and with an opportunity whereby some people went abroad and accessed markets, those who were growing them were demanded more produce.
As a result, the private sector made a lot of investments into the crop because they realised it is a needed commodity on the market, he indicated.
Since 2021, Munyaneza noted that farmers have been purchasing avocado seedlings on their own, recognising the crop’s significance as a source of income. Additionally, some agribusiness entrepreneurs have entered the avocado nursery business.
He indicated that for the seedlings that Rwanda was importing from abroad, one cost about $4.5 [approx. Rwf5,000], commending the fact that they are now available in the country after the government, and later the private sector, made an effort to get them multiplied in the country.
And with the development, Munyaneza added, people can get one seedling locally between Rwf800 and Rwf1,500 from many nurseries.
Darlaine Gatesi graduated from university in 2020 where she majored in urban planning, but she manages her mother’s four-hectare avocado farm in Huye District. The avocado trees on the farm—consisting of Hass and Fuerte varieties mainly meant for export purposes—were grown in 2015.
She said the crop is a worthwhile venture. “Avocado farming is a financially rewarding business,” she said, indicating that one (raw) avocado is Rwf120 [as farm price].
“First, it is eco-friendly farming, you are sure that that land on which it is grown is going to serve generations,” she said.
Global avocado outlook
Munyaneza estimated that the global avocado market will continue growing by 2030, driven by the rising demand for it, including consumers who want it for its health benefits, pointing out that it is commonly consumed, either as a salad or included in ordinary meals.
The total global avocado imports were worth $7.1 billion in 2019, according to the International Trade Centre (ITC) calculations based on UN COMTRADE statistics.
As per the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), in response to rapidly growing global demand, avocado is expected to become the most traded major tropical fruit by 2030, reaching 3.9 million tonnes of exports and overtaking both pineapples and mangoes in quantity terms.
Given the high average unit prices of avocado—compared to pineapple and mango—it projected, that the total value of global avocado exports would thus reach an estimated $8.3 billion in constant 2014-16 value terms, thereby placing it as one of the most valuable fruit commodities.
The United States and the European Union, where consumer interest in avocados is fuelled by the fruit’s assumed health benefits, are expected to remain the main importers, with 40 per cent and 31 per cent of global imports in 2030, respectively, FAO indicated.