As Mzansi celebrates the start of its new avocado season, the country is locked in a bitter fight over Tanzanian avocados. This, after a large consignment of avos produced by this nation’s small-scale farmers were confiscated at the Beitbridge border post.
Authorities say the avocado shipment via Tanzanian mega-farmer Rob Clowes was blocked at the border between Zimbabwe and South Africa because phytosanitary documents could not be produced.
Clowes, however, believes it is part of a concerted effort by the department of agriculture, land reform and rural development (DALRRD) to protect Mzansi’s avocado growers.
Responding to the claims made the exporter, the South African Avocado Growers’ Association (SAAGA) says an agreement for the importation of avocados from the East African nation has not yet been finalised.
SAAGA chief executive Derek Donkin says they have participated in the process to finalise the matter through Subtrop, who manages the affairs of SAAGA. He wants to put it on record that SAAGA was not involved in the avocado consignment confiscation.
Donkin tells Food For Mzansi that they wish to assure the public that they do support the legal importation of avocados from Tanzania.
A planned virtual “verification visit” by the department to Tanzania have, however, hindered the finalisation of import protocols.
What’s causing the delay?
Donkin explains, “In August 2020, a SAAGA member contacted me regarding the possibility of importing avocados from Tanzania for processing. I contacted the acting director of plant health at the DALRRD, who informed me that it should be possible to arrange a special import permit for fruit to be processed.”
Donkin then referred the SAAGA member to the Fresh Produce Importers’ Association (FPIA). The member subsequently joined the FPIA and worked with them to facilitate the process with government to obtain an import permit for processing.
FPIA then approached Subtrop to find out if SAAGA would support the finalisation of the import protocols for fresh avocado fruit without the customary physical verification visit by government due to Covid-19 travel restrictions.
Subtrop supported this, saying that a virtual verification inspection would expedite the finalisation of the import protocols with government’s assistance.
According to Donkin a senior official in the department was subsequently emailed.
He says, “This email clearly stated that there was an out-of-season shortage of avocados in South Africa and that the import of avocados from Tanzania would be beneficial.”
Donkin says the FPIA has since been encouraging the department to finalise the import protocol propose dates have been communicated with the Tanzanian government. They are awaiting confirmation.
SAAGA, however, believes the Tanzanian exporter moved prematurely. It says South Africa is Tanzania’s biggest purchaser of exported fruits and the relationship goes both ways.
Avo thieves and exports
Meanwhile global demand for avocados has increased the shelf-price, which in turn gave birth to avocado syndicates in Mzansi. Reportedly, more than half of the avocado farmers in South Africa have already suffered losses.
Some have even considered a technology to micro-dot each fruit so it could be traced back to them, but the volumes are so large that it is seen as arduous.
South Africa is forecasting a rise in its avocado export crop with estimates of about 16 million 4kg cartons. That is a million cartons more than last year.
“Although we are in an ‘off year’ in terms of the alternate bearing cycle, volumes will be up on last year due to new orchards coming into production and improved fruit size as a result of the abundant rains in most production regions,” Donkin told FreshFruit Portal.