The Western Cape Province is known to produce a wide range of fresh produce, but avocados have not historically been one of those. Avocados have traditionally been produced in the hot and humid Northern provinces of South Africa such as Mpumalanga, Limpopo, and KwaZulu-Natal, but market demand, improved varieties and agricultural practices have seen the spread of this subtropical fruit to South Africa’s Western Cape Province.
Although the Western Cape’s climate was previously considered to be too cold for avocado production, the region has a Mediterranean climate much like avocado production regions in California and Spain, and some pioneering growers have recognized this potential. The new technologies that are an integral part of modern agricultural practices have made it easier for farmers to identify and define specific low frost or frost-free microclimates and soils where avocado production is possible. During the past few years, productions have been growing in the milder coastal climates of the Southern Cape in the regions between Swellendam, Heidelberg and George.
Photo: Stock Image Envato
This exciting new development in the Western Cape is attracting attention at government level, as Western Cape Minister of Agriculture Dr Ivan Meyer referred to this development in a speech recently, with specific reference to the additional jobs that these developments were creating within the agricultural sector. Derek Donkin, Chief Executive Officer of the South African Growers’ Association explained that while productions in the region still represent a small percentage of South Africa’s total production, he pointed out that they were growing steadily. “At present, the area under avocado orchards in the Western Cape is around 300ha, and further expansion is planned for the next few years,” says Donkin. He added that the total avocado plantings in South Africa were currently at approximately 15000ha.
Although cold weather during August flowering and ineffective root drainage both remain challenges to avocado production in the Western Cape, the timing of entry of fruit produced in this region into domestic markets remains a strong incentive. As this fruit is harvested between October and December, later than productions in the country’s traditional northern production regions, the domestic market is undersupplied during this time and most of the avocado production is sold locally. While export markets do exist for avocados produced in the Western Cape region, the timing of this production tends to compete on export markets with the early Northern Hemisphere avocado offerings from Spain and Israel.
Photo: Stock Image Envato
One of the Western Cape fruit production companies that has diversified into avocado production is Lucerne Agri Investments. The company has developed an avocado project in the Overberg region during the past three years. “While we are excited about the potential of avocados in the Western Cape, we are approaching this initiative with caution as the rapid expansion of any commodity can lead to rapid market saturation,” explains Juan-Ivan Smuts, Chief Operations Officer at Lucerne. “It is important for sustainability that this new development in the avocado industry is well managed and protected,” he added.
Article by Jacques Burger