The buttery fruit has boomed in popularity in recent years, with farmers in many parts of the world dubbing it ‘green gold’
The global appetite for avocado, the leathery-skinned fruit packed with nutritional benefits, is showing no signs of slowing down, and Bangladesh given its temperate climate can grab a slice of this $15 billion market.
Cultivation of the central American fruit, affectionately dubbed green gold, has already gained in popularity in Bogura, Rajshahi, Dinajpur, Chapainawabgan and Khagrachhari, and agro-scientists are hopeful of commercial farming.
The avocado production this year was 700 kg, up from 200 kg, according to Mehedi Masood, post project director of Year-Round Fruit Production for Nutrition Improvement Project at the agriculture ministry.
“The season for this crop is June-July. If we can cultivate it properly, we can export it within 10 years,” he said.
The global avocado market is predicted to hit $21.6 billion by 2026 and grow at about 6 per cent between 2018 and 2026, according to Transparency Market Research.
Production areas were concentrated in Central and South America, but seeing the surge in consumption everywhere, it has caused a larger number of countries to invest heavily in avocado production.
Currently, more than 80 per cent of the world’s avocado production is in the hands of 11 countries.
Mexico leads this list with 33.9 per cent of the world production. So lucrative is the trade of the superfood that Mexican cartels have taken over avocado fields.
It is followed by the Dominican Republic, Peru, Indonesia, Colombia, Brazil, Kenya, United States, Venezuela, Israel and China. The top avocado exporters are Mexico, the Netherlands and Peru.
In Kenya, avocado is increasingly replacing coffee and tea plantations, becoming the leading fruit export and making the country the largest African producer.
Top avocado producers have a large concentration of small farmers, each with less than five hectares of harvested avocado, that are increasingly integrating to export supply chains.
The US is the largest consumer of avocados, followed by the EU. Demand from China is fast-growing on the back of its burgeoning health-conscious middle-class.
The fruit has a variety of beneficial properties including richness in antioxidant vitamin E, monounsaturated fats, carotene and useful minerals such as iron and potassium.
“We have researched and planted 300 avocado seedlings commercially brought from Sri Lanka, Thailand and Vietnam,” Masood said.
In Bangladesh, there are 10 hectares of avocado gardens across the country, according to the agriculture ministry.
The demand for avocado in Bangladesh is 6,000 tonnes each year, according to Masood.
“We are researching on some avocado trees -- there is a great possibility of expansion of its commercial cultivation,” said Mohammad Humayun Kabir, professor of the horticulture department of the Sher-e-Bangla Agricultural University.
Researchers are observing avocado farming more than 5 years to know its quality, perfect place and weather, whether it suits for cultivation or not.
The horticulture department is providing branches of adult avocado trees at Tk 30 a piece to farmers.
Farmers are keen on the fruit as it can be easily cultivated in the country, has good demand and high price in the local market.
One such farmer is Sujan Chakma from Khagrachhari. Last year, he made Tk 75,000 by selling the fruit of his avocado tree by selling a kg at Tk 500-600.
So happy Chakma is with the returns, he has planted more than 100 seedlings on 4 bigha lands.
Like Chakma, Golam Kibria has jumped in on the bandwagon hoping to cash in on a golden era for the soft green fruit.
He planted 40 saplings of a Mexican variety of avocado on one bigha of land.
“I am a teacher but I was inspired to start avocado farming seeing its huge demand and big profit. I hope I will get the success next year,” he added.
Even if the export market is still not accessible to farmers like Chakma and Kibria, the local market is fast growing.
The demand for avocado -- fuelled by Instagram and the rising popularity of avo toast and all things vegan -- is huge but the supply is low as avocado farming is yet to take off on a large scale, according to supermarkets.
Meena Bazar has started to sell avocados imported from Mexico and Kenya as well as the homegrown ones.
“We could not fulfil our customer demand with the homegrown avocados,” said Rafiqul Islam, procurement manager of Meena Bazaar, which sold 509 kgs of avocado in the last eight months.
Since the price is so high, people buy just one or two avocados at a time, said Mohammad Hasan, a salesman at Agora on Indira Road.
Agora sells both Gem and Hass varieties of avocado for Tk 880 a kg.
“Each week we sell around 7 kg but the demand of this fruit is very high,” he added.
On a trip to Shwapno on Panthapath, the correspondent found one Shamsul Alam purchasing a kilogram of avocado.
“It is a monthly treat for my family -- my children love it. Since the price is so high, I can't afford it regularly.”
Shwapno sells a kg of avocado for Tk 880. Last month, the supermarket chain sold more than 200 kg of imported avocado, said Shahedul Islam, its category manager.
If the avocado is farmed in Bangladesh, then Alam said he would be able to enjoy the buttery fruit every week.
However, there is a downside to avocado farming: it is a water-intensive activity. It takes approximately 70 litres of water per avocado, which is a significant amount, especially if compared to an average of 22 litres for an orange and 5 for a tomato.
Driven by high demand and profitability, many farmers have ceased growing traditional rain-fed crops in many parts of the world and switched to avocado cultivation, pushing their areas towards water collapse.
For instance, Chile’s Petorca region has been left with intense water scarcity for excessive avocado cultivation.
In fiscal 2019-20, Bangladesh’s agriculture exports stood at $862.1 million, according to data from the Export Promotion Bureau.