The unexpected economic losses from the implications of weather conditions on avocado farming have affected both commercial farmers and their employees.(REUTERS)
Consumers are faced with higher avocado prices as producers count their loss as a result of the unprecedented prolonged heat wave and damaging hail in Limpopo.
Harvesting has started with many growers counting losses that may take years to recoup. Informal traders of the fruit say they are now facing ruin.
In the Tzaneen area of Limpopo, damage has brought production at one avocado producing farm to a halt.
The majority of the smaller avocados will likely have no space on the market, which is now observing a phase of demand of healthier fruit outgrowing the supply. Farmers are not able to make bigger returns on exports.
About the heat wave’s effect on the fruit, avocado farmer, Andre Ernst, explains, “The high temperatures cause the plant to go under stress and this stress has an effect on either fruit set or the growth of the fruit.”
Changes of fruit size as well high prices are also noted by sellers of avocados around the Tzaneen area. Hawkers say consumers have pointed out to the smaller than usual size of avocados that they purchase from farms in the area.
According to hawker Magdeline Machete, “The sale of avocados is not so good this year. Customers are generally not satisfied with the avocado. They want us to reduce the price and we buy them from farms at a higher price so we are forced to increase our prices based on that. The situation with avocados is bad this year.”
The drastic reduction in the fruit size which is not absorbed into the export markets or domestic retailers would be turned into products like guacamole or oil at a much discounted price.
In other avocado producing farms around the area, farmers have lost three years of production due to extreme hail conditions. Hailstorms have devastated close to 90 hectares of trees in a neighbouring farm.
The unexpected economic losses have affected both commercial farmers and their employees. Harvesting and production will not happen in one such avocado farm until 2018.
Avocado farmer, Paul Wilchire, says, “We had to cut down 70 hectares of avocados and 15 hectares of litchis that have been damaged. It has massive implications to us as producers of avocados and our business. It has put our development plan on hold; we had to find work for our employees. We had to give options of reduction in hours and retrenchments or to go out and find work to keep them going. We will be out of production naturally for this year.”