Written by: Mark Hoddle
Written by: Mary Lu Arpaia
California is a recognized world leader in avocado production and is renowned for high quality Hass avocado fruit. The strength of the California avocado industry has resulted from research driven science, primarily by UC researchers, which addresses a variety of issues including plant nutrition and breeding, irrigation, canopy, pest, and disease management, and harvest and post-harvest practices.
Avocados are native to the New World and are recognized for having a highly nutritious fruit. To satisfy increasing demand, global fruit production is projected to continue to increase, especially in developing tropical countries, including Africa, where an estimated 2-3% increase in production per year is predicted (FAO 2003). Tanzania’s fledgling Hass avocado industry has been in commercial production for less than 10 years and is aiming to increase exports to the lucrative European market (Anon 2015). A local private sector company, Rungwe Avocado Company (RAC), headquartered in Rungwe District in the Mbeya Region of the Southern Highlands of Tanzania, established a 100 hectare Hass avocado orchard in 2009. Associated with RAC are 118 staff and approximately 3,700 outgrowers who collectively exported > 1,000 metric tons of fruit in 2016.
Outgrowers are small land holder farmers who grow avocados under the umbrella of RAC which provides planting materials, extension and fruit harvest services, post-harvest processing of picked fruit, and logistical organization of exports to Europe (Anon 2015). Outgrower fruit is purchased by RAC through guaranteed off-take agreements which aim to lift the incomes of participating small land holders. This outgrower model is endorsed by many socially-responsible investors.
Managing outgrower fruit production is challenging as participating farms are spread over large areas and access can be difficult, the number of trees grown per farm is highly variable ranging from around 20 to more than 200, and farming and planting practices are not standardized. Coupled with these difficulties is a limited understanding of the pest and disease complexes associated with Hass avocado production in the Southern Highlands.
One of the aims of the UCOP’s Global Food Initiative is to deploy UC’s best research and extension practices to address the key challenge of improving food production to sustainably feed an increasing world population. This challenge is regional, national, and international in scope. UC-ANR Extension Specialists with horticultural and pest management expertise in avocados have the required experience to develop research and extension driven programs to address issues affecting global food production, especially in developing regions of the world where food and economic security can be fragile. With respect to the UC Global Food Initiative, the goal we have set ourselves is to assist and improve outgrower avocado production in Tanzania.
A recent visit facilitated by RAC provided the opportunity for MSH and MLA to visit small and large outgrower avocado farms, the 100 ha RAC orchard, and the chance to interact with staff and extension technicians. Collectively, this provided critical insight into the unique growing conditions that typify the Southern Highlands of Tanzania and outgrower farming practices.
The week-long visit to the Southern Highlands, coupled with consultation and discussion with outgrowers, extension technicians, and packinghouse and export logistics managers, assisted with the identification of production, pest management, and fruit handling challenges. While different from problems faced in California (and Central and South America where we have also worked on avocado production issues), familiar themes were identified that can be addressed within a short (< 18 months [e.g., canopy management and pest identification]), medium (18-36 months [e.g., development of pest monitoring programs]), and long-term (> 36 months [e.g., development of integrated pest management programs]) framework. The task in front of us now is to implement these suggestions and modify and adapt them as appropriate.
Anon. 2015. Avocado farmers in Tanzania build export market with support from Feed the Future. https://feedthefuture.gov/article/avocado-farmers-tanzania-build-export-market-support-feed-future (last viewed 14 March 2017)
FAO. 2003. Medium term prospects for agricultural commodities – projections to the year 2010. http://www.fao.org/docrep/006/y5143e/y5143e00.htm (last viewed 14 March 2017)