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Morocco: Farmers on track for a bumper avocado harvest

Avocados   -  
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Morocco's climate has proved perfect for avocado growers, with the fruit's widespread popularity and ability to command high market prices seeing exports increase year on year.

The country has become a significant player in the global avocado market since their introduction.

Mohamed Lakchouch owns an avocado farm of some 10 hectares in Larache, north western Morocco, with some 5-thousand avocado trees.

He produces three varieties of avocado namely, Hass, Fuerté and Zutano, with the Hass variety representing some 80% of the avocado trees on this farm.

Lakchouch says this year he's produced 90 tones of Hass avocados, a 30% increase in comparison to the last three years.

But he says he's mindful that avocados are a thirsty crop.

"Each avocado tree can consume approximately 30 litres per hour, and the amount can change according to the seasons. We can use only half that amount, almost 15 litres per hour, and it can reach as much as 60 litres per hour."

He says extreme temperatures and wind "can cause major losses to avocado trees because they are very sensitive".

Lakchouch's farm utilises an irrigation system with sensors to reduce water wastage.

Abdellah Elyamlahi, President of the Moroccan Association of Avocado Exporters, says Morocco's northern regions have important water reserves which have boosted agricultural production.

"The northern region of Morocco experiences rainfall and there are important water reserves, unlike southern Morocco, such as Agadir and the Sahara. 20% of the increase in production is due to the growth of farms."

Morocco has recently endured a severe drought due to a reduction in rainfall and an increase in temperatures, especially during the summer months.

This has had a very negative impact on the water table and led to low water levels in dams.

Despite water scarcity issues, the country's avocado industry has shown resilience.

Mustapha Laissate, an environment researcher in Rabat, says it is important to regulate farms so they are not in water scarce areas.

"The state has now developed a strategy to confront water scarcity. In this context, it is necessary to regulate the cultivation of these types of trees, as well as watermelons, which must be in areas characterized by abundant water, such as the Lookkos Basin and the Gharb region. However, their presence is difficult in areas where we need drinking water and where livestock and factories are located, in order to avoid an imbalance in water resources that should cover other areas."

Lakchouch says production has increased on his farm as the trees have matured.

"I had young trees. So, it is normal for the production to increase with each year. There are other factors that play a role in increasing the production, for example, the absence of both ice and high temperatures and wind as well. So, with the presence of suitable climatic conditions the production increases."

Avocado production across the country for this season could reach 60,000 tons, says Elyamlahi of the Moroccan Association of Avocado Exporters.

Last year general production reached 40,000 tons, he says, with 90% the Hass variety.

Every year, Morocco exports almost all the avocados it grows. They began exporting to Spain, but later added countries such as Italy, Portugal, Netherlands, Belgium, Germany, and Russia to the list of importers.

However, currently two thirds of this year's avocado harvest do not yet have a destination and several export units have been forced to close.

Elyamlahi explains that this year's avocados are smaller and there is greater competition on international markets for larger fruit.

Morocco had become accustomed to exporting large calibres.

"There are problems that accompany the increase in production, which is the small size of the fruit. When the tree is full of fruit, this negatively affects its size. When the tree is full of fruit, the fruit is small, and vice versa. This is what has affected marketing at the present time, because in these months there are a group of countries that have the same (uniform) avocado size which are then exported to the main market to which Morocco exports, which is Europe."

And Elyamlahi says the dangers for the industry are real.

"The large quantities of avocados that are still in Morocco, if they accumulate, this will cause adverse results, such as a decrease in prices and the inability to export them or export them at low prices, and this is not a healthy or sustainable matter."

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