Avocado pear has several economic potentials – DG RMRDC

The instability in the price of oil has led many developing oil producing countries to initiate policies that can promote flow of foreign exchange from other commodities. As a result, the Raw Materials Research and Development Council (RMRDC), has taken giant steps to strategically advance avocado in the agricultural sector. BINTA SHAMA reports.

Nigeria, blessed with vast number of agricultural commodities, some of which have not been given adequate national attention in terms of promoting their industrial utilization. Government efforts to boost agricultural production and productivity through enhancing market linkages, and access to e-extension technology are mostly directed towards development of commodities such as cocoa, rice, maize, etc. with little or no emphasis on underutilised plant species such as avocado. Among all fruits, only olive (Oleo europa) and oil palm fruit (Elaeis guineensis) can rival avocado oil in content.

About avocado

Avocado, commonly referred to as the African Pear (Dacryodes edulis) is a well-known plant in West Africa. Studies carried out in Nigeria have shown that the development of avocado has the potential of generating about 50 billion naira on annual basis, in addition to enhancing job creation and establishment of new processing industries. Its industrial processing has capacity for promoting the development of the food and beverages, pharmaceutical and cosmetic industries in the country.

Studies carried out by RMRDC indicated that avocado is mostly found in the forests, farmlands and homesteads in Nigeria. It predominantly grows in the Southern and Central parts of Nigeria. The distribution in terms of abundance is closely related to vegetation conditions with the rainforest having the most abundant distribution. The plant grows in-situ in Imo, Abia, Anambra, Enugu, Ebonyi, Edo, Akwa-Ibom, Delta, and Cross River States. Although, marketed to a reasonable extent, avocado is less abundant in Lagos, Ogun, Ondo, Bayelsa, Taraba and Rivers States when compared with the States indicated above. In most of the Central parts of the country such as in Kwara, Kogi, Benue, Niger and Nasarawa States, it occurs occasionally. It is also found to a less extent in Plateau and Kaduna States.

New Avocado investment in Kenya

In sub-Saharan Africa, Kenya is a major avocado producer with an estimated annual production of 180,000 tonnes in 2019. Kenyan avocado subsector is experiencing new investments as the sector opens up. Each year, more than 1,000 containers are shipped to Europe, Middle East, Russia and Asia. Kenya has about 8,000 ha of land under the crop. Among the incentives that assisted in the development of avocado farming in Kenya are increased interest and investment in the sector by the government, contract farming and replacement of old trees with improved varieties.

According to Statistica 2020, U.S. consumption of avocados has been increasing since 1970. It increased significantly from 2.21 pounds per capita in 2000 to 7.81 pounds per capita in 2019. The value of U.S. avocado production measured $426 million in 2020. The United States produced 206,610 tons. The total number of U.S. acres in production stabilized at 52,720. In 2020 the United States imported $2.4 billion in fresh avocados and exported approximately $45,502 in fresh avocados. The contribution of avocado imports to total U.S. output increased 273% from $1.7 billion in 2012 to $6.5 billion in FY 2019/20. At the same time, the contribution of those imports to U.S. GDP (value added) increased by nearly 230% from $1.2 billion to $3.99 billion. The contributions to U.S. labor income, U.S. tax revenues, and employment have also registered dramatic increases (219%, 558%, and 194%, respectively). As a result of the growing, domestic U.S. growers also benefited from higher price points and a larger market for their products. Avocado farming is also a viable and sustainable business venture in Mexico. It creates approximately 78,000 direct and permanent jobs and 310,000 indirect and seasonal jobs, and provided productive living in a region that was once one of the largest sources of migrant workers in the U.S.

Global trade still increasing

Global trade in avocado is still on the increase. The main players in the export market are Israel, Mexico, South Africa, USA and Chile while the main importers of the fruit include Belgium, France, The Netherlands, Sweden, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, Germany, Spain, and in America the USA, Canada and Japan.

The major factors driving the increase are the oil content and nutritional values. Avocado contains about 30% oil that has high digestibility coefficient, excellent keeping quality with high values of palmitic, oleic and stearic acids as constituents of the oil. Depending on cultivars, the lipid content varies from 5 – 25% with myristic acid level of 0.1%, palmitic acid varies from 7 – 12% and stearic acid ranged from 1 – 1.7%. The unsaturated fatty acids include palmitoleic acid which varies from 5.5 to 11%, oleic acids from 52 – 81% and non-saponifiables which varies from 1.6 to 2.4%. The major amino acid contents of the pulp are glutamic acid, 12.3%; Aspartic acid, 22.6%; and alanine, 6.0%. The oil of great importance to the cosmetic industry as it contains sterol, called photosterol, which has high penetrating abilities. The oil is easy to emulsify, its low surface tension produces smoothening creams and makes superior cosmetic oil. The impressive list of vitamins found in avocado oil is of benefit to the cosmetic industry as vitamin A helps to prevent the dry skin and vitamin E (tocopherol) and vitamin B are effective against skin wrinkling. It is the fifth in the list of the most desirable oils known as anti-cholesterol agents.

Avocado, antidote for illnesses

Avocados have been marketed as a healthy dietary choice and as a good source of beneficial monounsaturated oil. A whole medium avocado contains approximately 15 percent of the FDA’s recommended daily amount of saturated fat. In addition, avocados have 60 percent more potassium than bananas. Avocados are also a benefit to a diabetic diet. With diabetes increasing in the in the country, avocados can offer a nutritious choice for those following a diabetic diet. The nutritional component analysis shows the fruit to consist essentially of 74.9% of water, 19.8% of fat and 11.3% ascorbic acid. The ripe fruit can be eaten and used in preparing salads, as a flavoring for ice creams, as a filling for sandwiches and in quick desserts. In Brazil, Vietnam and Taiwan, avocados are frequently used for milkshakes and occasionally added to ice cream. In the Philippines, Jamaica, and Indonesia, a dessert drink is made with sugar, milk and pureed avocado. In Central America, avocados are served mixed with white rice. In Chile, they are often used in hamburgers, hot dogs, and celery salads. A frozen puree known as guacamole salad is a well-known avocado product of commercial relevance. This product can be stored for weeks, frozen at -18oC.

The avocado paste has also been prepared on industrial scale. The typical composition of the fatty acids does not change even after 40 weeks of storage. The stability in lipid fraction is due to high content of natural antioxidants and tocoperherols. Also, yoghurt is being supplemented with avocado in view of its healthy nutritional components. The product had been made from fresh avocado paste, milk, and dairy starter culture. The homogeneity of the product can be improved by addition of a stabilizer (such as gelatin 0.2 – 0.4%).

Leaves, seeds and bark of avocado used for treatment

The leaves, seeds and bark of avocado trees are employed for treatment of various diseases. These provide opportunities for the extraction of active ingredients from them for drug formulation. When boiled, the leaves are used as a remedy for diarrhea. The pulp is used to hasten the formation of pus in wounds while the seeds can be smashed and used as remedy for toothaches.

However, despite its increasing popularity, the plant’s development faces some issues. Avocado trees are much more expensive to establish that most other fruits. This makes it hard for non-wealthy farmers to invest in large land areas. Before 2012, even in developed economies, only rich farmers were involved in large scale farming because it was costlier and viewed as an investment. The upper-class farmers are aware of uses best practices and own lands along the coast.

RMRDC’s intervention

As a result of this, RMRDC has made avocado development one of the strategic projects in its boosting the development of agricultural commodities for industrial use programme. Through this project, the council is collaborating with some agricultural research outfits and private sector operatives to carry out productivity improvement trials on local avocado varieties. The Council has also concluded arrangements for the development of the internationally recognised HASS variety from Mexico and California in the United States of America for locational and adaptation trials in the Country. The council’s field trials of the local varieties have shown that productivity can be greatly improved on under famers’ condition in the southern parts of the Country.

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