tndQuestions I The big story of The Avocado Company of Uganda

(Last Updated On: 7 December 2023)

Kampala I Different definitions describe what avocado is. According to Wikipedia, the avocado (Persea americana) is a medium-sized, evergreen tree in the laurel family (Lauraceae).

The same source says it is native to the Americas and was first domesticated in Mesoamerica more than 5,000 years ago.

In Uganda, avocado farming has taken shape – with a number of companies, and individuals growing it for – among other reasons – commercial and home uses.

Among companies promoting avocado farming and adding value to it is The Avocado Company of Uganda. This week, the head of the tndQuestions, Milton Emmy Akwam asked Anna Santa Drale, the Managing Director of the company about what they do, among other key issues. Below are the excerpts:

Madam Anna Santa Drale, welcome to tndQuestions, kindly tell me what The Avocado Company of Uganda is.

The Avocado Company of Uganda is an agricultural company that was established in 2019 in Western Uganda, with the aim of developing an avocado value chain for the Hass avocado. The Hass avocado will be 100% ORGANICALLY grown. The project is still in its early stages. A nucleus farm on 100 acres of land has been established in Hapuyo, Kyegegwa district.

This is a pilot project with the intention of planting avocado trees using best practices, to which the out growers would refer; and setting up nursery beds that would produce seedlings that will be supplied for free to 1000 out growers who will each plant avocados on at least one acre, within the neighbourhood of the farm.

Avocado company
A Hass avocado tree on a farm in Kyegegwa.

Capacity will be built in-house for the training of farm extension workers who will ensure that all these farmers engage in best practices and use no chemicals whatsoever, to maximize their yields. Fairtrade will be applied in purchasing avocados from the out-growers, so middlemen will be bypassed to guarantee farmers a decent income.

What opportunity gaps has the Company seized for the years it has been in operation?

This is not applicable as yet as we are still at the establishment stage.

If I am right, you are primarily working in Western Uganda – also where you had a pilot project. What is so unique about the region and when do you expect to cover other regions or districts?

We are still at the pilot stage. The reason why we chose Kyegegwa is because there are still large expanses of land available where large-scale farming can be done. Secondly, it is the proximity to Entebbe. When we start exporting avocados it would take us 5 hours to get to the airport in Entebbe. Thirdly, there is a good road network. When we get bigger, we could consider expanding to other areas in Uganda.

The Company is doing Avocado business and value addition. Uganda exported 469 tons of avocados in 2020 – according to the UN Commodity Trade Statistics Database. What is your export status?

We still have not reached the level where we are ready to export on our own. We do not have the volumes as yet. Planting for the pilot project is still ongoing and being done in phases and we still have not reached full capacity.  We got our first harvest of 500kg in August 2022, the second harvest of about 1 tonne was in August 2023, and in November this year, we harvested about 1.5 tonnes and this has been sold to other exporters already in the market.

Whatever is not good enough for export is what we use for oil production.

Avocado farming has not been widely embraced until a few years ago with Hass avocado getting the government nod through NAADS also in recent times. What motivation do you give your farmers?

We are still at the pilot stage of our project and only have one out-grower so far. He was motivated to join us because he too heard about hass avocado being the new green gold.

At the ongoing trade show at Hotel Africana, Kampala, your team is exhibiting. What is Extra Virgin Avocado oil and what are some of the health benefits?

We make cold-pressed extra virgin and cosmetic avocado oil, under the brand name AVOIL Extra. Virgin means that this is raw unrefined avocado oil that maintains its full flavour profile and nutritional properties. It is cold-pressed – so no heat alters these natural properties.

Avocado company
The company’s products processed from hass avocado.

The oil is high in monounsaturated fatty acids and has a high smoke point of about 250 degrees centigrade and is thus good oil for frying.

Health benefits – avocado oil is a healthy fat that can lower bad cholesterol levels and reduce the risk of heart disease; rich in antioxidants that has benefit for the eyes, and can break up cancerous cells; it enhances the absorption of vitamins A, D, E and K, reduces symptoms of arthritis; improves skin and enhances wound healing and is also good for other skin irritations like eczema.

Also read: Chucks Foods Uganda CEO on why local investors are ‘dying’ 

We also have the cosmetic oil which is age-defying – good for the skin and hair. It will turn back the clock to reveal your natural beauty, repair damaged hair and reinstate receding hairlines.

Drale staff
The Avocado Company of Uganda staff during a trade exhibition at Hotel Africana in Kampala.

The production has started and what are some of the challenges – including triumphs you can share with us?

Oil production is currently on a very small scale as we are still testing the waters to establish how viable the Ugandan market is. So, currently, we are still using rudimentary methods for oil production. Once we are sure of our market, we will then roll out a large high-tech oil production plant that is able to absorb the volume of fruits produced by the out growers.

Response from the market has been very good so far and we are now planning to go fully fledged.

The biggest challenge we have faced is the fact that most people do not know the benefits that can be derived from using avocado oil. So, we need to create awareness about this if we are to boost our sales and get Ugandans on board. As such, they find the avocado expensive and consider it a good ostentation.

What cannot have this conversation and forget to talk about the Pandemic and how it affected businesses and the movement of people? How did you and your team manage to sail through, and what is the Post-Pandemic (Covid-19) story?

Actually, we are where we are today because of the pandemic. We were confined at the farm, with nothing else to do, so we put all our efforts into getting the farm going.

The pandemic also opened our eyes to the fact that one needs to diversify and not put all your eggs in one basket.

Furthermore, it helped us consider an inward-looking approach by identifying the opportunity presented by the local Ugandan market for our oil as opposed to looking at the export market only.

We also started making our own organic foliar sprays and fertilizers because we couldn’t find any on the market as most of this is imported from Kenya. However, because of this, we are now self-reliant and make our own organic foliar sprays and fertilizers.

Some companies, big or small, do not want to share their prospects publicly. Is what you intend to achieve in 5, 10 or 15 years a secret?

Oh, no. We are not secretive about this. Our long-term plan is to work with out-growers to increase our levels of production. We will supply seedlings for free to the out growers, and also provide extension services and organic inputs to them so that we can guarantee the quality of fruit that we will eventually buy from them.

We also plan to go into the export market and get into large-scale oil production, mainly for the local market.

As I said, the government through NAADS is promoting the farming of Hass Avocado and value addition. How has the government been supportive of The Avocado Company of Uganda?

We have not benefited from the government in any way so far. I am not aware of any initiative or support schemes in place in Kyegegwa district so far. However, we are working with the district agricultural officers who support us and help us identify potential outgrowers. The district water engineer was instrumental in helping set up a dam that we are using for irrigation on one of the farms.

Also read: Know NAADS’ partners for Hass Avocado and Macadamia seedlings

Finally, talk about the biogas plant and how you intend to conserve the environment.

The biogas unit will be part of the high-tech oil production plant. Waste from the oil production process will be turned into biogas and used as fuel for running the factory. As such, there will be no deposition of organic matter, which then reduces methane and carbon emissions and recycles carbon dioxide for the plants. We will be doing this as part of our efforts to minimize our environmental footprint.

Many thanks, Drale for accepting to talk with us.

Thank you too, Milton, for the opportunity you have given us to talk about this project, and for the publicity that this will generate and hopefully, we will get more people living healthily as they begin to use our avocado oil.

Do you want to be part of the next edition? If you do, reach us today, via WhatsApp: +256 700702961

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