When the country’s largest producers of tomatoes turns their hand to avocados, you know they’re feeding a growing appetite for the superfood. Hilary Biller gets the lowdown on a visit to ZZ2’s Afrikado farms in the Lowveld.
By HILARY BILLER
My love affair with the avocado started with the tree — a huge avo tree in the front garden of my childhood home in Durban. The allure wasn’t the fruit — big, buttery, green-skinned KZN avos that fell to the ground with a huge plop — the joy was in climbing it. I always beat my older sister to the top, from where our vista went way beyond the roof of the house as it stretched to Durban Harbour. We loved soaking up the sights — ships coming and going, tug boats, cranes and the occasional yacht bobbing on the sea. It was our family dog Toto who really relished the fruit. His favourite place was sitting under the tree, one paw holding down an avo, the other opening it and lapping up the soft insides. Perhaps this was why he was so healthy and his black coat was as shiny as newly polished shoes. That’s the thing about avocados. Apart from their deliciousness, they are packed full of wholesomeness. And feeding the huge global appetite for avocados as part of a healthy lifestyle is big business, and SA is one of the world’s major producers. I thought about my childhood avocado tree as I boarded a small plane to fly to the Lowveld. The area is the biggest producer of avocados in SA and I was going to visit ZZ2, a fifth-generation family-owned farming enterprise and fresh produce company at their headquarters in the Mooketsi Valley. Better known for the quality tomatoes they grow year-round, I was here to visit their vast avocado plantations and witness first-hand their Harmony Avs concept, where ZZ2 Afrikado, working in harmony with nature, have hand-picked 12 avocado varieties to concentrate on. This means they can now deliver the valuable fruit to the consumer all year long.
It’s an impressive 1,000ha operation and I kicked off by watching a team of pickers clear a harvest of hass avocados (shiny green beauties with thick skins) in record time and later saw the fruit arrive at ZZ2’s recently opened 100,000-ton state-of the-art packhouse. Here the avos are washed, sorted and packed into crates, ready to be shipped to international and local markets. During a visit to the nursery the next morning, I followed the intricate process where the seed (the pip) is nurtured through different stages to produce robust avocado tree seedlings. The nursery produces 350,000 trees a year. To produce top-quality avocados, ZZ2 developed Natuurboerdery, a concept where they work holistically with nature and the elements of sunlight, water and soil, moving away from easy, quick-fix chemical solutions towards more complex biological solutions. Soil health was the most fundamental area of change and the conceptualised practices play a major role in growing productive plants. Water is fundamental to production — avocado production is thirsty work — and Natuurboerdery is about balancing the natural environment with technology to conserve and use water sparingly. I saw how the trees are cultivated on ridges and valley slopes because they don’t like their roots in water, and also so water run-off can be collected and re-used.