Avocado toast economics
Ethiopia was a late entrant to Africa’s avocado rush. Though there was an existing local market – the country boasts around 12 endemic varieties of avocado – exports only began in 2015 with the introduction of new varieties for overseas markets. A partnership between Ethiopia’s agriculture ministry and the aid agencies of the US and Israel has since brought the Hass variety – imported from Israel – to more than 2,000 farmers. Ethiopia is now the sixth-biggest avocado producer in Africa.
There is a lot of catching up to do. In 2017, neighbouring Kenya overtook South Africa as Africa’s largest avocado exporter, producing 191,000tn, according to the Food and Agriculture Organisation. In May, the Nairobi government signed an export deal with China, where demand is growing fast. China could take more than 40% of Kenya’s avocados when the deal is implemented. Kenya’s coffee farmers can reportedly earn 10 times as much as they did from coffee by switching to avocados.
Some reckon the rapid growth in avocado production in Kenya has come at the expense of quality. This leaves space for other players to carve a niche. “There is an opportunity for countries like Ethiopia to be strategic about how they enter the market, for example by emphasising sustainability,” argues Greenpath’s Ele Gower. Some look to floriculture as a template: in just 10 years, Ethiopia has emerged as Africa’s second-biggest flower exporter, giving even Kenya a run for its money.