Upsetting the avocado cart: Why South Africa imports from the Mediterranean instead of the cheaper option of Tanzania


The popularity macadamia nuts and avocado pears has become something of a double-edged sword for the farming industry in southern Africa. Macadamia thefts have surged across the region in the past five years, as have avocado thefts, particularly in South Africa. PHOTO/Unsplash/Nur Afni/Unsplash/Twinsfisch/Flickr/Tatters

Why is it so darn hard to get avocados from Tanzania into the South African market, which is burdened with the high prices of imported avos for significant periods? This is the experience of one avo farmer.

South Africans could have been eating Tanzanian Hass avocados for the past five years, instead of the expensive imported Hass avocados from the likes of Spain and Israel. Both Mediterranean countries are a full continent away, so it takes the avos nearly a month to get from harvest to your grocery store – I suspect more, in the end. Southern Tanzania’s avos take about a week to get from harvest to distribution centres. Tanzanian fruit would be cheaper for South African consumers and it would be less travel time, which ensures freshness.

Jokes about the high prices of your store-bought fruit would disappear, and you could be giving intra-African trade an almighty boost. One of the reasons for the current high prices is that South Africa does not have a local production season from around the middle of December to the middle of March. Imported fruit is always going to be much more expensive.

So why are the Tanzanian avocados not sold to South Africans? The answer is far more complicated than you may think. The process from a completed Pest Risk Analysis (to determine if there are any pests or diseases that could be imported with the fruit) to the granting of a permit and market access takes years. Too long, in fact. For the record, the first questionnaire for market access to South Africa from Tanzania was completed in 2010.

If only government and the local industry hadn’t dragged their feet for years, you would be eating Tanzanian avocados and not Spanish ones. Not that I have anything against Spanish ones. In my eyes, an avocado is there to be enjoyed by all nationalities around the world.

Yet, although the industry in South Africa will tell you otherwise, our direct experience has been one of hostility. There has been pushback and, more recently, scrambling to present a united front of support after an upending of the proverbial (and literal) avocado cart.

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