Avocado ban threatens South Africa export market

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Avocados are mostly grown in parts of Limpopo, KwaZulu-Natal and Mpumalanga, but in recent years plantations have even made their way to drier areas such as the Western and Eastern Cape.

As the world and its consumers have grown more health-conscious, the demand for avocados, which are considered to be a superfood and are packed with vitamin E, iron and healthy fats, has risen, causing a surge in income generated from the South African avocado export market.

Restaurants in the UK are reportedly shunning the use of avocados on the ethical grounds that the water-intensive fruit is harming farmers and their land in regions such as South Africa where water is scarce and droughts are commonplace. Some foreign consumers are also against the fruit due to the various environmental impacts of exporting it.

In London some restaurants have gone as far as to ban the fruit on the grounds that it is also unsustainable, putting forward the argument that many forests around the world are being thinned to make way for avocado plantations. In addition, the import and export of the fruit is also guzzling fuel and contributing to climate change on a mass scale.

Data from the International Trade Centre (ITC) shows that South Africa exported 43 492 tonnes of avocados to the value of R853-million in 2017, down by 24.8% compared to 2016, showcasing the effects of the 2016/17 season droughts which impacted production.

Some of the major importers of South Africa’s avocados in 2017 were the Netherlands at 68.6%, the UK at 21.8%, Spain at 4.3%, and Namibia at roughly 1.2%.

As the UK is the second most important market for avocado exports in South Africa, a reduction in demand could have huge negative impacts on the economy. There is not much information available yet as to how other markets such as Europe may respond to the environmental and ethical concerns surrounding the global avocado production.

The Chinese market is showing no concern for the issue as of yet however, and the export markets for the country have in fact increased in recent years.

For the moment, South Africa remains in a state of flux as perceptions of this much-loved fruit shift, but without a doubt the export market will be shaken up in the coming years.