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South Africa: Maluma avocado holds up well under drought pressures

With production shooting up around the world in key avocado-growing regions, the South African developers of the Maluma variety are confident a prosperous future lies ahead.

Allesbeste Nursery owner Dr. Andre Ernst told the cultivar’s attributes meant it was a more favorable option than the ever-popular Hass for many in the industry. 

Having first achieved export status in 2006, the Maluma variety has now been registered in numerous countries, with commercial production and trials of various sizes underway.

“As well as South Africa, the Maluma’s plant breeders’ rights are now protected in New Zealand, Australia, Morocco, Egypt, Mexico, and the United States,” Ernst said.

“It is in the process of protection in Latin America, as well as Israel and the European Union.”

In South Africa there are now around 120,000-150,000 trees planted covering around 300 hectares, and these figures are set to double by 2020 due to high order volume.

Ernst said the variety was also developing ‘extremely well’ in Australia, where the most significant amount of commercial production is based in the northern Queensland area of Dimbulah.

At least 20,000 trees are expected to be planted annually in the coming years, with orders already backed up two years.

The country’s main grower, DBC Farming, has also aligned with produce giant the Costa Group to supply supermarket chain Coles.

Another Southern Hemisphere country that has seen impressive growth over recent years is Peru.

“Around 80,000-100,000 trees have been planted, and 30,000-50,000 of those went in the ground within the last 12 months,” Ernst said.

“There’s a lot of interest in the northern areas of Peru especially, as they have a good climate there.”

He said major produce company Talsa had taken the lead with the variety in Peru, and recently carried out a successful trial shipment to the U.S.

Although plant material was only released from quarantine in neighboring Chile last year, Ernst has already received numerous requests from large companies hoping to get a slice of the action.

“The difficulty for now is just to pot up enough material. I would like to believe that by next year we will have ample material to start with bigger trials there,” he said.

Meanwhile, changes in U.S. quarantine regulations have thrown up some difficulties in getting plant material into the country, but Ernst expects the issue to be resolved within the next couple of months.

Across the Atlantic, interest has shot up recently in Morocco and Israel, although both countries are still in the trial stages. In Spain production is now moving into the commercial stages, with 12,000 trees due to be planted next year.

Marketing the Maluma

While Ernst said he was initially told by marketers that the Maluma variety would need to ride on the back of Hass’ success, it had now become clear that it was more than able to stand on its own two feet.

He said attributes including a higher respiration rate and larger fruit sizing than the Hass meant the variety was being very well received by growers and retailers the world over.

“We originally though the different respiration rate could be its Achilles’ heel, but it is in fact one of its biggest attributes,” he said.

“A lot of time has been spent writing up the protocols, taking into account the unique respiration pattern.”

He said the pattern meant the fruit started to ripen very soon after harvesting, but if it was packed quickly under controlled atmosphere it could arrive at the destination market ‘rock solid’.

“It is then very easy to ripen the Maluma, and it ripens very evenly as well. This is important as around 80% of fruit in markets like Europe is now marketed as ‘Ripe and Ready’,” he said.

Another key characteristic is that the quality of the ripened fruit does not deteriorate as quickly as Hass when placed in a refrigerator.

“There was a test that was done with fruit that was ripened and then put in a refrigerator at about 4°C, and it was perfect after three weeks,” he said.

“So the shelf life as a ripened product is extremely good. It’s one of its strongest attributes.”

A solution to the drought?

In addition, Ernst said a lot of growers had shown interest in the variety due to its larger fruit sizings than Hass, which was especially important with so many countries plagued by drought conditions.

“Small Hass avocados have been