Myanmar Avocado Growers Reach UK Markets with Improved Quality Fresh Produce

In early 2020, the Myanmar Avocado Producer and Exporter Association (MAVO), completed an agreement with FreshPro Imports in the United Kingdom (UK) to trial Myanmar avocados in the UK market. FreshPro is a preferred distributor to quality retailers, gourmet/specialty shops, convenience stores, food service operations and other outlets of fresh foods. MAVO is part of the Myanmar Fruit, Flower and Vegetable Producer and Exporter Association (MFVP) who received UK aid grant funding through the DaNa Facility starting in 2017. MFVP provides membership services to over 55,000 farmers throughout the country, including capacity building, input supply, information, marketplace, consultations and business linkages.

Following DaNa Facility’s three years of targeted technical assistance working with MFVP and avocado growers to improve quality and yields of avocadoes, the British Chamber of Commerce recently introduced MFVP to Freshpro Import UK who is considering a contract for marketing and branding Myanmar avocados from MFVP in the UK. Freshpro is conducting significant promotional activities in the UK to stimulate demand. Avocado growers from Shan State agreed to make a trial shipment this season of premium avocados. After MFVP harvests Hass variety avocados, MFVP will subsequently ship 3 – 20 metric tons, if the quality is acceptable to Freshpro.

In November, half a ton of avocados (Amara, Hass and Buccanneer varieties) were successfully exported to the UK with more consignments expected in early 2021. This is an important achievement and is the culmination of a significant amount of work empowering smallholder farmers, strengthening Myanmar’s export ecosystem for avocados and tackling barriers to trading internationally.

MFVP and DaNa Facility have continuously supported smallholder farmers to increase the yield and quality of avocados and establish market linkages, including relationships with domestic and international buyers. The project operated in Myanmar’s remotest states and regions; Southern Chin State and the Pa-O Self-Administered Zone (SAZ) within Southern Shan State; both areas are affected by armed conflict. The project benefitted over 4,043 smallholder farmers and casual laborers, including 1,641 women, in producing avocados, elephant foot yam and coffee, resulting in improved jobs, incomes and livelihoods. Specifically, 1,932 farmers are cultivating 1,352 acres of avocado.

Prior to receiving UK aid funding, avocado farmers in Southern Shan and Chin State used traditional methods in growing, harvesting and selling avocados in local markets. Due to low quality produce and an abundant oversupply during the peak harvest season, avocados were often disposed of as waste when market demand was met, leading to depressed farmers’ incomes. The commercial potential of the avocado value chain in Myanmar was dramatically underappreciated and the quality of produce was quite poor. Today, The avocado market in Shan State is indicative of the results that can be achieved by a mature market. From 2017-18 to 2019-20, farmers increased their average revenue from avocado from $1,464 to $2,821, an increase of 93%.  The share of semi-processed products as a percentage of total revenue increased from 20% in 2017-18 to 32% in 2019-20. Farmers reported planting an average of 120 avocado trees during 2019-20, compared to harvesting from an average of only 80 trees previously.  This is an average increase of 150% of the number of avocado trees per farmer over an average increased acreage of 15%.

The DaNa Facility was instrumental in setting up the foundation for maximising the export potential for avocados and overcoming a number of constraints. In this case, building local capacity was critical for achieving export quality fruit. The project supported selecting 23 avocado varieties in order to ensure farmers could market their preferred and financially viable choices. The DaNa Facility and MFVP also invested in farming tools, equipment and technology, enabling growers to follow best practice production methods. In addition, capacity building training was provided by local and international agricultural experts specialising in commercial farming. These changes in cultivation methods and mentality were critical in order to improve crop production, post-harvest and processing mechanisms, as well as business development skills. The project was even able to unblock land registration barriers in Shan State to enable avocado smallholder farmers to access loans using land as collateral.

The DaNa Facility and MFVP also organised local producer groups into ‘crop clusters’ to drive input costs down, build value networks and secure common access to resources and market information that individual farmers could not access alone. The groups were also a vehicle for MFVP to leverage in order to create opportunities, ensuring MFVP could propose a competitive and commercially viable model and establish agreements that were profitable to both farmers and buyers. This example has proven to be incredibly successful with other farmers replicating proven production methods and requesting to participate in collective marketing. MFVP anticipates scaling up this model in other locations in Myanmar in the future, including other crops.

U Salai Kapling, a 50‐year‐old farmer from Matupi Township in Southern Chin State attended a training course on crop diversification from DaNa Facility and MFVP. Salai began cultivating a six‐acre orchard, growing coffee, avocado, oranges, and monkey cry fruit. Salai’s income is growing in tandem with the business. In 2018 and 2019, he sold over 21,000 bags of coffee, avocado, oranges, and monkey cry fruit seedlings to farmers from villages across Matupi Township, earning him MMK 5,100,000 (£2,638). “The project has had a real impact on my business. Expanding the farm to include the nursery has increased my income and helped improve my family’s standard of living,” said Salai.

Alongside these initiatives, significant work was underway towards understanding the constraints to exporting. MFVP focused on enhancing farmers’ understanding of international quality standards and how to achieve them, developing the national avocado export strategy and coordinating investment promotion events specifically for the avocado value chain. MFVP also undertook meaningful engagements with actors across the value chain to foster strategic partnerships.

Market linkages were also made and formalised within Myanmar. MFVP supported Chin farmers to meet with major domestic markets in Yangon. City Mart and Makro Wholesalers agreed to supply the fruit in their stores under the brand name ‘Chinocado’. Following these successes, the British Chamber of Commerce in Myanmar introduced MFVP to FreshPro Imports. Following the arrival of the fruit, assessments are now underway to determine shelf life of the avocados, address ‘last mile’ delivery challenges and feedback from retailers. MFVP will also be supported by FreshPro Imports to achieve further accreditation for the UK and EU Market.

The DaNa Facility and MFVP collaboration is extremely important for Myanmar’s economic development and delivers tangible results with deep poverty reduction impact. Particularly in fragile and conflict affected environments such as Shan and Chin, the project can play a role in reducing the drivers of conflict by creating alternative jobs and opportunities. MFVP enabled farmers to increase their economic security and improve their livelihoods by maximizing the value of their products from seed to market. Projects can also have positive demonstration effects and spur exports in new sectors. There is the potential for this initiative to be truly transformative and stimulate growth, innovation and catalyse job creation in Myanmar. Smallholder farmers from remote areas have been economically empowered. “The DaNa Facility has enabled MFVP to expand to new markets and provided a good foundation to reach a stage where we are export ready,” said Daw Sandar Myo, General Secretary of MFVP.  

Following this trial and despite the additional constraints the COVID-19 pandemic has added, MFVP plans to export avocados to the UK from other states, such as Chin. While there is a long way to go, it is an exciting challenge ahead and MFVP look forward to deepening their supplier-buyer linkages and building trust with international businesses. This pilot demonstrates that it is possible to overcome barriers to trade between the UK and developing countries and in the process, complement UK business interests and empower local people.