The Ministry of Agriculture Animal Industry and Fisheries is calling upon farmers to invest in avocado production.
There is an on-going national campaign for increased avocado growing launched last year in Mayuge District by the Minister of Agriculture, Vincent Ssempijja.
He laid more emphasis on the Hass avocado variety because of its bigger export market but generally avocados are good fruits for all of us to eat due to their high nutritive value.
They are now viewed as the new crop whose production could alleviate poverty and malnutrition.
Dr Barbra Mugwanya Zawedde the director of research at Mukono ZARDI, told journalists last week that the Hass avocado has become a highly demanded fruit on the international market and that Mukono Zardi has been charged with production of the fruit's seedlings for farmers to plant. Mr Owen Sungura the avocado project research officer at Mukono ZARDI revealed that their target is to produce 600,000 grafted seedlings every year.
He further revealed that interested farmers from across the country will purchase each seedling at Shs5,000 which is a subsidized price and that the farmers growing the fruits will be monitored and assisted by National Agricultural Research Organisation (Naro) free of charge to come up with good results.
"We want to emphasize good agronomic practices and to ensure that the farmers meet the expected international hygienic fruit production standards. Our other goal is to link them to avocado exporters and, where possible, get them into contract farming. We are not by the way putting all our eggs into one basket. We are still promoting farming of other avocado varieties and researching on them as well so that if in future we discover some with high oil content or better taste we can take advantage of them as well. We want to have the biggest number of avocado varieties in East Africa," Dr Zawedde says.
According to Naro eating avocado comes with a lot of health and nutritional benefits which is why they are on demand worldwide. Avocados are rich in heart-healthy oil which can lower cholesterol levels and reduce the risk of heart diseases. Avocados are rich in potassium which is essential for muscle activity regulation. They are rich in dietary fibres which lower the risk of developing stroke, hypertension, diabetes and obesity.
They are an important diet for pregnant women since they contain folic acid, which is essential in developing the red blood cells and preventing birth defects. Avocados are very nutritious with four times more nutritional value than any other fruit except banana. They are rich in vitamins, proteins and minerals.
Avocados are rich in Vitamin K which is essential for bone health and blood clotting. They contain Vitamin E which is an antioxidant important for maintaining healthy hair and skin. Avocados are rich with antioxidants that improve eye health and have anti-aging properties.
Hass Avocado is today the most recommended variety for growing because of the following attributes, according to NARO. The Hass trees are quick maturing (two to three years) and high yielding.
Hass avocados have a small seed and big flesh with high oil content. It has a thick skin which makes it easy for packaging and shipping. It also has a long shelf life, shape and size that make Hass fruits ideal for export.
Intending farmers with some land may set up separate Hass avocado gardens and plantations or integrate the Hass avocado trees in gardens already planted with other crops such as coffee or banana in what is known as agro-forestry.
Some people can also plant them in their compounds as shade trees. Avocado is already a big thing at the National Forestry Resources Research Institute (NaFORRI) where already Hass avocado seedlings have been produced under the supervision of Dr Samson Gwali, a senior research scientist.
A 10-acre-avocado mother garden is undergoing preparation together with a screen house almost an acre wide. The institute aims at producing a million avocado seedlings every year according to Dr Hilary Agaba director of research and head of NaFORRI. The institute also has an attached field gene bank for some 11 avocado varieties at Kifu Forest Reserve.
Another government strategy is to use avocado for job creation and poverty alleviation through value addition. Dr Jackie Atim heads the avocado value addition research at Mukono ZARDI. She looks at the avocado fruit as a form of raw material for production of several products including cosmetics, charcoal briskets, and cooking oil.
"Not all people can become growers of avocado but many young people could use the fruits grown by farmers to make products such as cosmetics, cooking oil,". She is looking at using cottage industries similar to those in India and China to make avocado products and has strong faith in fabricators in Uganda to make the tools and machines that can be used to manufacture avocado products.
According to Naro projections, a farmer can earn good money from Hass avocado growing. With good agronomic practices a tree begins fruition after about two and half years and incrementally the number of fruits per tree keeps increasing.
At about four years each tree should produce some 800 fruits. If the farmer plants 160 trees on an acre (at 5 by 5 metres spacing), gets 128,000 fruits, and chooses to sell each fruit at the very minimal farm gate price of Shs100 per fruit, he or she earns Shs12,800,000.