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Abdelkader Benchagra van Maroc Avocado:

"Lasting relationships are founded on reliability"

He is somewhat skeptical about the exact figures government agencies, supranational organizations, and interest groups publish. Yet, Abdelkader Benchagra of Maroc Avocado, an importer in the Netherlands of - as the name implies - Moroccan avocados, is sure avocado acreage and, thus, production in that Maghreb country has increased exponentially in recent years. "I see new orchards every year when I visit that cultivation area," Abdel begins.

Still, let's throw in some of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization's (FAO) figures. In 2010, Morocco's avocado acreage covered nearly 1,900 hectares; in 2018, it was 5,000 hectares, and three years later, in 2021, over 9,000 hectares. The figures confirm what Abdel has observed. By comparison, Spain's acreage grew from over 10,000 hectares to about 18,000 hectares in the same period. For now, it has twice as much as Morocco, though the latter's acreage increase is much greater.

Cultivation diversification and overseas investor
According to Abdel, acreage expansion is happening in three ways: existing growers are diversifying, new growers are entering, and overseas investors are setting up large projects, all attracted by the nice profit margins the crop offers. "It's currently one of the most profitable Moroccan exports. The growers we work with have mostly switched from strawberries to avocado, but even where peanuts or willows are cultivated, avocado trees are appearing. Recently, an overseas investor bought about 500 hectares, and they want to expand to 1,000. The next five years' export figures will undoubtedly reflect that growth."

Morocco's avocado cultivation is expected to soon match, and who knows, perhaps overtake Spain. The current drought problem in the Axarquía, Spain's preeminent avocado region exacerbates that projection. "In Morocco, cultivation is done along the coast between Tangier and Rabat, in an area where, for now, there is sufficient rainfall and water resources for irrigation," Abdel says. That is also needed because it is common knowledge that avocado cultivation consumes quite a bit of water. According to the Netherlands Institute for Public Health and the Environment data, that is 0,729 m3 per kilogram of product. In strawberry cultivation, that is 0,306 m3, 0,220 m3 for oranges, and a paltry 0.026 m3 for apples. It, thus, takes almost 30 times as much water to grow avocados as apples.

High return
Avocados – especially Hass - are prone to rotation years. That and water availability explains the somewhat fluctuating annual yields per hectare. Calculate a 10-year average based on FAOSTAT data, and you see that Morocco, with nearly 11,000 kilograms per hectare, far outpaces Spain, which came in at only 7,500 kg/ha. Spain's total yield two years ago (116,770 kilos) was, thus, not even that much higher than Morocco's (82,369 kilos) despite twice as much acreage. Conclusion: the North African country is already an important (European) avocado market player and will only become more so in the future.

Class II stays in Marokko
Moroccan greenskin exports began in late September. "The destinations are mainly Spain, France, and the Netherlands. We don't start so early. The dry matter content has to be perfectly right first. We don't package anything without prior analysis. Besides, with Fruit Attraction in late September/early October, the market is slightly quieter. Programs run then, but there's little to do on the free market."

According to Abdel, most of these greenskins, especially the Bacon and Zutano varieties, are sold on the local market. "That's more profitable than exporting them to Europe, where primarily Hass is in demand. That's partly because greenskins' skins are far more sensitive and so more prone to damage during packaging. The class II product - which makes up 20% of the harvest of an export variety like Hass - remains on the domestic market, too. Those aren't shipped to Europe for processing into guacamole, mainly because transportation costs are so high. A truck to Europe now easily costs €6,000, compared to €4,000 four years ago," he says.

Road vs. maritime transport
Despite high road transport tariffs, Benchagra prefers trucks to boats. "Sea containers are much cheaper, and thanks to Morocco's strategic location, avocados arrive at the port of Rotterdam barely a week after picking. But that can sometimes go wrong. Last year, for example, a shipping company decided to make a detour to the United Kingdom first. The avocados arrived more than a week late, and the customer was left with nothing. Or you have the misfortune that your container must be scanned at the port. Surely, you'd rather have a container full of about € 80,000 worth of fruit come directly to you. Costs also rise with delays, including demurrage and possible quality loss. In the end, it could be better to pay a little more for road transport. Then, we always know exactly where the cargo is and when it will arrive."

Good demand and prices
The importer finds that Europe's avocado demand still exceeds supply. "When Peru leaves the market - and this year it's slightly earlier than usual because of El Niño - it's Spain, Israel, and Morocco's turn. But even together they don't have enough supply to meet the still strong demand. Colombia, too, is on the market but offers somewhat too-small sizes. Europe prefers large avocados to which you can easily adhere a sticker. This season's prices look good. In the first half of September, a 4 kg box went for €7-8, but in early October, it was €13-14; almost double," Abdel points out.

Given Moroccan avocados' excellent opportunities in the European market, he is trying to help professionalize cultivation and export in Morocco. "As European importers, we're somewhat in Moroccan growers' visors. We see where the market's going and try to explain that to growers. What variety and what specifications are demanded? We also still have much to learn regarding trade. Look at Peru, Colombia or South Africa: they have offices in Europe and buy product outside their season to supply year-round. We don't do that yet, but it's coming."

Abdel would love sales to be a little more structured from Morocco to Europe. "I want my clients to be able to make a full schedule with Moroccan avocados. That they know what quantities they can buy and at what price," he explains. "Good agreements ensure long-term relationships and stable business. That benefits both growers and customers. Sometimes, I still miss that a bit in the Moroccan sector. It's not only about planning."

"It's also common that not everyone always keeps up their end of the deal. That, while long-term relationships are based on reliability. You cannot leave customers out in the cold because you suddenly have the chance to sell a batch to someone else for a few cents more. We don't do that and choose our suppliers carefully based on several criteria, including reliability. The growth potential is there; add somewhat more structure, and Morocco will soon become indispensable in the European avocado market," predicts Abdel.

Abdelkader Benchagra
Maroc Avocado
32 Terworm Street
3077 PN, Rotterdam, NL
Tel: +31 (0) 102 342 522
Mob: +31 (0) 621 405 906
[email protected]