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July 10, 2019

Former Tanzania Coffee Farm Becomes Avocado Exporter

In 2007, after 15 years of working on a large coffee farm in neighbouring Kenya, British farmer, James Parsons out to convert the former German coffee farm into an avocado farm.

The 137-hectare site had long fallen into disrepair. Overgrown shrubs and bushes had spread across the land, surviving coffee trees were diseased and the roof of the old farmhouse was full of holes. Years of price volatility, nationalisation in the 1970s and poor management from local co-operatives had led to the farm’s collapse.

“This was a coffee growing area and the cooperative from which I rented the land wanted me to grow coffee. They didn’t understand why I wanted to do avocados. They thought I wanted to grow local avocados,” he says, referring to the variety of large avocados with big stones that are sold cheaply on street corners across the country.

Africado uses about 65l of water to produce one kilo of avocados – far less than the global estimate of 283l of water needed to produce a kilo of avocados, according to the Water Footprint Network.

With efforts to use less water, also comes efforts to reduce waste. Every year, around 20 per cent of the avocado production unsuitable for exports is sent to Kenya to be processed into oil that's often used for cosmetics. The rest is packaged on site and will reach consumers’ plates about 30 days after being picked.

In 2018, Africado exported 3,000 tons of avocados to Europe – about half of Tanzania’s production.

Parsons has started a second avocado farm – doubling Africado’s production capacity thanks to a £3.5m loan from the Finnish and Norwegian development funds, AgDevCo, a company funded by the UK’s Department for International Development that invests in African agribusiness.

“We should be able to reach more than 6,000 tons of exports,” Parsons says.

The new farm will grow gem avocados, a variety which has a tough skin with gold flecks, as well as a rich flavour that comes from staying on the tree for longer, and is anticipated to rival hass avocados on the global market.

With a different harvest period to the hass type, growing gem avocados will enable the farm to extend its production season from the current four months to eight months a year — retaining its seasonal staff for longer.

In 2010, Africado launched a small-holder scheme selling local people subsidised seedling trees, from the farm, with a guarantee that it will buy their production in return. Nine years later, the initiative counts more than 2,000 small-holder farmers across a 200 kilometre radius.

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