Hass avocado changes fortune of Mayuge farmers

Saturday August 1 2020

A worker tends to the nursery bed that feeds

A worker tends to the nursery bed that feeds the main garden. Inset is the fruit.  

By TONNY ABET

The farm resembles a magnificent rainforest from afar, with huge lush-green trees neatly growing in straight lines.
A cold breeze greets Seeds of Gold team as we enter the avocado farm surrounded with a variety of trees that include eucalyptus in Bukabooli Sub-county.

The trees sway in sync with the breeze creating a tranquil environment. Attention shifts to dozens of pear-shaped green and brown fruits hanging loosely from the tree branches as one nears the farm.

Sitting on 2,500 acres on the shores of Lake Victoria in Mayuge District, Musubi Farm is one of Uganda’s largest Hass avocado growing hub.

“Some of the fruits are mature, others are not, but we will soon be harvesting,” says Mustafa Bett, who together with his friend Abubakar Ssengendo, run the farm.

The farm which grows Hass avocado for export purposes, also sources from other farms, packs and markets quality avocados year-round to European markets.
Starting
Mustafa and his business partner have been growing avocados since 2017 after switching from sugarcane.
“We shifted to avocado after the sugarcane industry became shaky. I cannot regret having moved since some of my colleagues who stuck to sugarcane are facing numerous challenges that have made the industry lose its lustre.”
The farmer recalls the good old days when he was growing sugarcane. “Previously we used to make good money, but prices of sugarcane have dropped greatly. Sugarcane farmers are not making much,” Mustafa tells Seeds of Gold.
To switch to avocados, Mustafa says they cut down the entire sugarcane plantation to prepare the land for the new wonder crop.

“I had been in the horticultural industry for more than 15 years. I knew what could make money and I convinced my colleague. Neighbours thought it was not a smart move.”

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The farm started its Hass avocado growing in 2018, with a block of 15 acres which is also serving as their mother garden for Hass avocado trees, used to graft new seedlings.

“I chose Hass variety because it has a longer shelf-life. It also grows and produces more yields. We bought seedlings from a friend. We decided to increase the number in the second year,” says Ssengendo.
Profitable
Ssengendo who is also the farm’s lead agronomist says that unlike sugarcane, avocado farming is profitable yet it requires minimal maintenance.

“The seedlings should be planted during the rainy season for better growth. The spacing between the trees should be seven by seven metres. If the trees are not well-spaced, the canopies will overlap and yields will fail.”
During planting, the holes should be filled with about five kilogrammes of manure and one can later add DAP fertiliser for better growth.

They harvest 600 fruits from each tree annually—equivalent to between 100 kilogrammes and 150 kilogrammes of fruits. The fruits are mainly sold in Middle East, Saudi Arabia, France, Holland and Germany.
“France and Holland are the major markets. We supply directly to the markets about 20 tonnes of avocados,” he says.
Mustafa hopes to start producing avocado seedlings to meet the high demand from farmers seeking to grow the crop.
Challenges
Not all is rosy with growing Hass avocado. As many other farmers, one of their main challenge is the avocado lace bug, an insect which invades fruits.

“We use the fly catcher to trap the insect which hides under the soil,” says Ssengendo, who also trains farmers from neighbouring villages how to grow seedlings.

The farmer says they have also had to grapple with fungal infections including the anthracnose.
Anthracnose makes the fruits rot or end up with a bitter taste.

It is not easy to notice it since the fruit’s skin is usually black or brown when ripe.
Infection of the fruit can take place at any time after fruit-set but the damage does not show up until after picking, during post-harvest storage and marketing. Anthracnose can affect the plants at any stage of their growth.

The fungus easily affects fruit quality since the damaged areas of the avocados discolour and have a sour taste.
Capital
The duo started their venture with a seed capital of Shs30m. Mustafa says they spent about Shs2m on each acre.
After expanding the farm to 2500 acres, Mustafa reveals they spent Shs8b on fixing the drip irrigation system. “This system cost us about Shs8.1m per acre,” he says.
Employees
The farm has more than 1000 workers. “We have offered jobs to both skilled and unskilled Ugandans. Most of them get the skills from this farm,” says Mustafa.
Advise
Ssengendo advises farmers who want to start avocado farming to seek the services of soil testers. “A Hass avocado tree can grow successfully in a variety of soil types and in soil with acidic or alkaline pH levels, but the tree requires soil that has good drainage,” says Ssengendo.

Avocados are more sensitive to water-logging than citrus hence soils should be well-drained. “Poorly drained soils are associated with the presence of the Phytophthora fungi, which causes root or stem end rot. Suitable soils are medium sandy loams with a pH range of 5.5 to 6.5.”

“An avocado tree needs to cross-pollinate with another variety for optimal fruit set. Although avocado flowers have both male and female flower parts, each part functions at a different time during the day.”
The trees are grouped into Type A and Type B, depending on the time of day their male and female flower parts are reproductively viable. Planting Type A tree and Type B tree increases successful pollination if enough insect pollinators, such as bees, are present.

What you did not know about avocados
An avocado has more potassium than any other fruit. A single fruit has 975mg of potassium, which is double that offered by bananas.

The fruits are high in protein. A single avocado has 4gm of protein, which is higher than that in other fruits. Avocados ripen more quickly when placed with bananas or apples. This is because the two fruits release ethylene gas, which helps green avocados ripen rapidly.
Antioxidants, amino acids and essential oils in avocado repair damaged hair, keep skin moisturised and minimise wrinkles.

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