Yes, it’s true. Africa’s real diamonds are not buried in the ground. They’re actually hanging in the trees.
As millions of people around the world look for healthier and organic foods, tropical fruits are growing in demand both locally and globally.
Apart from the tons of fruits we eat at home in Africa, many of us do not notice the huge volumes of bananas, pineapples, mangoes and several other tropical fruit varieties that are shipped to Europe, the Middle East and USA every week.
Africa has a unique advantage to profit from the lucrative global market for tropical fruits which grow abundantly on the continent.
However, despite our continent’s huge potential to produce fruits for the global market, a lot of fruits grown across Africa are still consumed locally, and a large percentage of harvested fruits go to waste every year.
Because fruits are highly perishable and many farmers have little access to good storage facilities and processing options, Africa currently exports less than 5 percent of the fruits it produces every year.
This article explores the tropical fruit business and looks at a couple of successful entrepreneurs who are already exploiting the potentials of the fruit production business in Africa.
Why is the market potential for tropical fruits huge for Africa?
There are three strong reasons why Africa’s future in the tropical fruits business is shining very bright. Here they are…
- Africa has a strong geographic advantage
Up to 70 percent of fruits consumed on earth come from the tropics, and a very large portion of Africa lies within the tropics – a region that enjoys all-year-round sunlight and has a perfect climate for fruits to thrive and grow abundantly.
As a result, Africa remains one of the world’s largest producers of some of the most popular fruits on the planet – citrus, pineapples, bananas and several others.
- A growing global demand for healthier and organic foods
Due to the revelations by modern science about the health benefits of eating fruits and vegetables, millions of people around the world (especially in developed countries) now include some form of fruit in their daily diets.
Apart from their rich nutrient, mineral and vitamin content, some fruits are known to help to lower blood pressure; reduce the risk of heart disease, and probably some cancers, and help to lower the risk of digestive system problems.
The growing consciousness in developed markets to adopt fruit-rich diets is one of the major drivers of the growing demand for tropical fruits which are abundant in Africa. As a result, countries like Ghana, South Africa, Ivory Coast and Kenya earn millions of dollars every year from fruit exports to Europe, the Middle East and USA.
According to the World Health Organisation, millions of people around the world still die prematurely from diseases associated with low fruit consumption. While this is sad, it signals a promising and lucrative growth in the demand for African tropical fruits as more people add fruits to their diets.
- A rapidly growing fruit juice industry
The global market for fruit and vegetable juices is growing fast and is forecast to exceed 70 billion liters by the year 2017.
This rapid growth is driven by a rising preference by customers for healthy drinks (like fruit juices) over carbonated soda and ‘soft drinks’. There is also a rising demand for organic, super fruit and 100-percent natural fruit juices without any sweeteners and preservatives.
As consumers demand more natural fruit juices, producers around the world now require more raw fruits to make a glass of juice.
As more manufacturers shop for fruits to produce more juice to serve the growing fruit juice demand, Africa has the potential to become a major global supplier due to the abundance of fruits that grow on the continent.
This added demand from fruit juice manufacturers will allow more farmers across Africa to process their harvested fruits into less perishable concentrates thereby reducing spoilage and earning them more money.
It’s time to meet the fruits!
Now that we know why the market potential for tropical fruits is huge and growing, it’s time to meet some of Africa’s best-selling exotic fruits that have achieved worldwide celebrity status for their taste, high nutritional content and value. Here they are…
The pineapple is a very popular and widely consumed fruit in many parts of Africa. It is second only to bananas as the most important harvested fruit.
Despite the perfect fit that Africa’s tropical climate and soils have for pineapples, very few countries on the continent are big producers of the fruit. Ghana and Ivory Coast are Africa’s largest exporters making more than $50 million every year from pineapples they sell to Europe.
Some of the other big producers, like Nigeria, have up to 90 percent of harvested pineapples eaten locally, and very little is exported.
Although a lot of money is made from selling pineapples locally, entrepreneurs can make up to three to five times more money if this fruit is exported.
FAO statistics show that Latin America and South-East Asia currently dominate the international market for pineapples with countries like the Philippines, Brazil, Costa Rica, Thailand and Indonesia among the top five global producers.
In fact, over 90 percent of the world demand for fresh pineapple originates from twelve countries – USA, France, Japan, Belgium, Italy, Germany, Canada, Spain, England, Korea, Netherlands and Singapore. (source: UNCTAD)
Like all the other tropical fruits discussed in this article, pineapples grow and perform very well in many parts of sub-Saharan Africa where the soil and tropical climate is just perfect for them. They don’t require a lot of water and can survive on very little soil.
Pineapples have long and tough leaves which use the power of the sun to provide all the food and water the plant needs. The best part is: Pineapples multiply really fast and only require little care after planting.
The ‘Pineapple Story’ featured in the 4-minute video you’re about to watch features Blue Skies Products Limited, one of a few businesses in sub-Saharan Africa that make money from harvesting and processing locally-farmed pineapples.
Blue Skies, based in Ghana, purchases harvested pineapples from local communities and a large proportion of these fruits are processed into fresh pineapple chunks, juices and concentrates. These products are exported to Europe where the taste and demand for fresh exotic tropical fruits like pineapples is huge.
The video shows the chain of activities that take pineapples from the farms where they are grown and harvested, to packaging houses and then to the export terminal for its journey to Europe.
Although grown in over 90 countries around the world, mangoes (which are native to Asia), grow very well in many parts of tropical Africa. Apart from bananas, mangoes are the most consumed tropical fruit in the world and one of the most cultivated fruits in the tropics.
Because they are highly nutritious and rich in minerals, fibre and vitamins, mangoes are used in a wide variety of juices, sauces, salads and desserts around the world.
There are over 100 different varieties of mangoes and several of these are grown and harvested across many African countries. Although Nigeria remains Africa’s top producer of the fruit (followed by Kenya, Egypt and Madagascar), almost all of its yearly harvests are consumed locally or rot away as waste.
India, which has the mango as its national fruit, is the world’s largest producer and exporter. Other major exporters include China, Mexico, Thailand and the Philippines.
Like with most overlooked business opportunities scattered across Africa, some entrepreneurs have started doing something about Africa’s huge potential as a mango producer.
Africa Felix Juice is a Sierra Leone-based company that produces juice concentrates from mangoes farmed and harvested across that country.
The company buys mangoes from more than 1,000 small farmers in Sierra Leone for $250 to $300 per tree harvest, which is much higher than the $15 these farmers would have received if they sold the same fruits on the local market.
By buying fruits from small farmers, the company is creating value from millions of mangoes that otherwise rot away and go to waste every year.
The mango juice concentrates produced by Africa Felix Juice is mainly exported to Europe. These concentrates are the first major export from Sierra Leone since it came out from a very devastating civil war over ten years ago.
Bananas are definitely the most popular of all tropical and exotic fruits.
According to this article in the New Scientist, bananas have become the fourth most important food crop in the world, after rice, wheat and maize. It is also the world’s most harvested and eaten fruit with more than 1,000 different varieties growing in over 150 countries across the world.
In many parts of Africa, especially in West, Central and East Africa, bananas are widely eaten and have significant cultural and medicinal values.
In fact, countries like Uganda, Burundi and Rwanda consume up to 45 kilograms per person per year; the highest banana consumption rate anywhere in the world!
Bananas are most popularly eaten as ripe fruits (table bananas) with varieties such as Cavendish, Red Bananas, Apple bananas and Gros Michel used in desserts and juices. Other types, such as the cooking bananas (also known as plantains) are cooked, roasted and eaten as food.
Banana wine and Banana beer are also common products of this world-famous fruit. Bananas, especially the cooking and dessert (table) bananas are widely consumed in Africa and are a source of livelihood for many people.
According to UNCTAD, the international trade in bananas has tripled between the 1970s and today. However, the banana export market is still dominated by countries in Latin America, the Caribbean and South East Asia.
In Africa, more than 90 percent of harvested bananas are consumed locally and exports are not very common, except in just a few countries.
This article’s banana success story is about Deus Mulinde, a Ugandan banana plantation owner who arguably owns the largest banana plantation in all of East Africa.
Unable to get a job after studying Botany and Zoology at the Makerere University, Deus returned to his hometown to join his mother’s small banana business.
Today, his farm harvests up to 50 banana bunches (or ‘matooke’ as they’re popularly called in East Africa) every day which sells for nearly $40 at the local markets. On Saturdays, which are major market days, Deus usually sells up to $1,000 worth of bananas!
Citrus generally refers to a group of popular fruits which include sweet oranges, limes, grapefruits, lemons and mandarins (also known as tangerines). Citrus fruits are widely cultivated in tropical as well as subtropical African countries.
While fresh citrus for the market is produced preferably in subtropical climates (like South Africa) and Mediterranean climates (e.g. Tunisia, Egypt, Morocco, Libya), citrus used in juice production is predominant in tropical climates because of the possibility for higher sugar content.
African countries like South Africa make up to 6 billion Rand (nearly $600 million) every year from fresh citrus fruits exported to the USA and Europe.
In most other parts of our continent, citrus fruits (especially oranges) are used to produce concentrates for making fruit juice. Because these fruits are a very rich source of vitamin C, they are also used in pharmaceutical industries to make dietary supplements.
As with other fruits discussed in this article, most of the oranges produced in many parts of Africa are consumed locally or left to waste with very little, if any, exported to earn higher income.
Interested in the fruit farming and export business in Africa?
This article would have taken you several hours to read if we included other top hot-selling tropical fruits like Papayas (also known as ‘pawpaw’), Guavas, Avocado, Cashews and several others.
Lesser-known fruits such as passion fruits (popularly grown in many parts of East Africa) are starting to attract wider demand and attain a global profile.
The goal of this article is to open your eyes to the colourful and juicy diamonds that may be hanging in your own backyard.
Africa’s potential in fruit production is relatively untapped when compared to other regions in Latin America and Asia that currently dominate the international tropical fruits market.
It is very important that African entrepreneurs start to look out for ways to exploit the growing demand and lucrative market for tropical fruits both locally and internationally.
We can do this.
Let’s go Africa!
Written by John-Paul Iwuoha. Posted on 6 November 2016 on Linkedin.com