• Newly re-elected DA leader Mmusi Maimane was seen with a large bag of avocados as carry-on luggage over the weekend.
  • Commentators have speculated on the value of his precious haul.
  • Avocado prices have surged across the world, and SA producers should benefit this year as output recovers following the 2015/2016 drought. 

A photo of the newly re-elected leader of opposition party the Democratic Alliance (DA), Mmusi Maimane, holding a sizeable bag of avocados at OR Tambo international airport, went viral on Sunday.

South Africans have been complaining about soaring avocado prices for some time. A single fruit could set you back R20 last year. (Currently retail prices at Pick n Pay and Woolworths range from R11 to 14.99).

Given that South Africa is the world's ninth producer of avocados, our pain was relatively subdued. In the US, avocado prices more than doubled last year. 

This was due to weak harvests around the world (particularly in Mexico, which controls of 45% of the global harvest), combined with an insatiable demand for avocados. According to industry statistics, US consumption of avocados rose by 57% from five years ago.

In fact, avocados have been blamed for the dire state of millennials' finances.

Thanks to continuing good publicity about the fruit’s high nutrient and beneficial fat content, demand looks set to increase, according to Wandile Sihlobo, agricultural economist and head of agribusiness research at the Agricultural Business Chamber (Agbiz).

This should benefit domestic avocado producers.

"South Africa produces on average about 90,000 tonnes of avocados a year. This has grown significantly from levels of just under 70,000 tonnes in the early 2000s. The key driver behind this has largely been an expansion in area planted, which in turn was supported by an uptick in both domestic and global demand," says Sihlobo.

South Africa typically exports roughly two-thirds of its avocado production. But in 2017 the country’s avocado exports declined by 25% from the previous year, to 43,492 tonnes, according to data from Trade Map. 

This is partly on the back of a reduction in output following the 2015/16 drought.

The leading buyers of South African avocados included the Netherlands with a share of 69%, followed by the United Kingdom with a share of 22%, and Spain at 4%. The rest went to markets such as Namibia, Russia and Botswana.

"Avocado farming is a volatile business. Output from avocado trees alternates from year to year, with a high-yield season one year typically followed by leaner one the next," says Sihlobo.

Sihlobo expects output to recover in the coming years owing to favourable weather conditions, strong international demand and continuous expansion in area plantings. 

According to the South African Subtropical Growers Association, a "staggering" 1,000 hectares per year is being planted, which will mean will mean a huge increase in volumes over the next few years. Even so, global demand – particularly from China and the US – should easily absorb the growing SA output. 

How much is Mmusi's green gold worth?
According to our highly scientific estimates, his carry-on bag contained at least 65 avocados. 

Avocados currently retail for around R11.25 to R14.99 a piece at Pick n Pay and Woolworths. This values his haul at around R700 - almost enough to buy a pressure cooker  or a microwave

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