In this article, we discuss how Indian farmers can approach the problem of low returns from agriculture. Agriculture which is thought of as a dying sector in India, can become profitable when tackled with the right mindset. Aiming to produce items which are scarce in supply, searching for the industry best practices and collaborating with experts, can prove to be profitable when agriculture is treated as a business. Harshit Godha from http://www.indoisraelavocado.com/ discusses why he chose to pursue Avocado cultivation, how is he collaborating with Israeli agriculture industry and what stage is he at right now?
1. Why Avocado?
It all started when I was studying in the UK. Like any other university fresher, I was driven to get in shape and lose some fat. I joined the gym and started paying attention to what I eat. That led me to search youtube for healthy and nutritious recipes. It was then that I discovered that most of these American you-tubers were using this new hip fruit, Avocado, in their salads and protein shakes.
On researching more about it, I found out about its health benefits. Apparently, it helps in regulating hormones and deceasing bad cholesterol due to its high monounsaturated fat content.
Naturally, I started using it in regularly in my diet. But when I used to come back to India for holidays, not only was it hard to find avocados in Bhopal, but when I did find it, it was quite expensive and didn’t feel or taste the same as the ones I found in British super markets.
This thought suggested to me, an untapped business opportunity.
“Here is a fruit, that’s trendy, massively popular on social media, actually beneficial to health, scarce to source and commands a premium price. The West is already on to it, surely East would follow the trend.”
I started learning more about about its production and supply chain from books and articles on the web. Eventually, I found that even though, avocados are originally from South America but due to its ever increasing demand in the last decade it is now commercially grown (following the foot steps of Mexico, Chile and Peru) in California, Spain, South Africa, Israel, Kenya, Turkey, Egypt, Vietnam, Thailand, China, Australia and New Zealand.
If it is possible to grow Avocados commercially in both northern and southern hemispheres across six of the seven continents, then there might be a possibility to grow it in India, ideally in Madhya Pradesh. This rationale was enough for me to consider its production as a viable business option.
2. Can you grow Avocado in India?
Avocado, though not in abundance, are available in tier 1 and 2 cities in India. Either, the produce is imported, or locally grown in South India. In case of the former, it is usually the Hass variety, while for the latter, it’s a low-quality indigenous avocado grown from seedling, that barely resembles its modern-day cousin.
According to the established literature, the fruit ideally grows best in tropical and sub-tropical climates where temperature ranges between 3 to 32 degree Celsius.
But that hasn’t stopped Israeli growers to develop rootstocks and cultivars that can withstand high temperatures and heat. The temperature in some places like central Arava region there are as high as my home town, Bhopal and they are cultivating Avocados there.
I am willing to bet, that I can grow it here. The potential of the payoff it can give is worth the risk, in my opinion.
3. My story: 30 days at an Israeli Avocado orchard
Once I had made up my mind to give Avocado production in India a shot, I started contacting industry experts across the world to guide me on how to go about it. One person from Westfalia Fruit was kind enough to provide me contact details of a grower in Israel, who was cultivating avocados in a Kibbutz where temperatures were roughly similar to Bhopal.
Surprisingly, he was keen to talk to me, and I suggested the idea of visiting his orchards in his Kibbutz to learn more about what goes into the fruit’s commercial production. He was more than happy to impart knowledge and host me at the Kibbutz for a month.
Thrilled and excited about the opportunity, I cut my office drone internship in London short, and boarded a flight to Tel Aviv. Benny was there to pick me up, and off we drove to the Kibbutz.
Only after reaching the Kibbutz, I realised that the place was at the south side of the Sea of Galilee. The views from my cottage were amazing, and it helps to be close to a lake after a long day at the field under the scorching sun.
Over a period of thirty days, I tried to learn as much as I could by asking questions, taking notes and being at the fields with Benny. Luckily, they were planting new fields at that time, so I witnessed how to prepare a new a new avocado field and plant young trees
Apart from teaching me the processes and systems of commercially producing avocado, Benny also introduced me his colleagues and friends who are at the forefront of Israeli avocado industry. The people I met ranged from nursery owners, government officials of agriculture department, irrigation experts and pack house managers.
During my time there, I learnt a lot, but more importantly I developed relationships with people who are willing to guide me if and when I execute my own Avocado project in India
4. Pilot Project: 750 Israeli Avocado plants in India
After returning to India from the UK, my next challenge was to persuade my father and uncle to see avocado production as a viable business opportunity.
My father, though skeptical of the possibility of Avocado’s commercial cultivation here, arranged meetings with senior officers in the state’s horticulture department. Not surprisingly, all those meetings were not quite productive due to the novelty of the project.
We figured it is best to have my colleagues from Israel visit our sites here in Bhopal, see the micro climate for themselves, analyse the soil and water and suggest us how to proceed.
We hired the Israeli experts, and they visited us in October, 2018.
We had field visits of around 4 to 5 farms near Bhopal and our own sites. Judging from micro climate, water and soil test reports, local fruit produce, local cultivation practices and meetings with horticulture professionals and consultants, they suggested it is possible to grow Avocados here. But insisted, that I should start with a pilot project to see which varieties perform the best in the environment here.
Finally, a decision was made by my family to go ahead with a pilot project of 1 to 1.5 hectares and see where it goes. I am in process of ordering my plants and they are currently being prepared in Israel.
Israeli avocado experts think that Avocado cultivation holds a huge potential in India due to the rising disposable income with the middle and upper middle class. A renowned agriculture based firm has already established a pilot avocado orchard in south India and some coffee farmers in Wayanad are also experimenting with Avocado scions from Vietnam on their indigenous rootstocks.
Only time will tell how Harshit’s story unfolds.