Selecting the ripeness of an avocado in fruit stands and supermarkets across Colombia has been elevated to an art form. More often than not, advice is needed from the grocer or street vendor. Colombia is home to 10 varieties of avocado, and they all have interesting names: Choquette, Fuerte, Gwen, Reed, and Trinidad, to name a few. The only native avocado to these soils is the rounded pale green “Lorena,” popular as guacamole served in a molcajete stone mortar.
The majority of avocados were imported during the 1960s to this country from Central America, and the dark thick-skin Hass variety originated in California as a stroke of luck by local mailman and amateur horticulturalist Rudolf Hass.
But out of all the classified varieties, Hass has become the vanguard of fruit exports, helping boost revenues from US$3.5 million in 2014 to US$10 million in 2015. The global market for Hass avocados has been driven by consumer demand in the United States, and last month, the Colombian Hass entered the final stage in the approval process for importation.
As a much-anticipated certification for Hass is in the works, the government program Con Colombia Siembra set aside more areas to be cultivated, adding 4,672 hectares to the 16,000 where the fruit is grown. And that means more Hass for the world and an objective to reach US$100 million in exports by 2018.
Entities such as CorpoHass and the association of exporters Analdex want the Colombian Hass to become an everyday staple in households across the United States even though this fruit is harvested in Mexico and California. In fact, 95% of all avocados consumed in North America come from trees growing north of the tropics. Currently, Colombia exports the fruit to the Netherlands, United Kingdom, Spain, and France.
From plant to plate, Colombia can cultivate Hass all year round and offers a competitive advantage over other countries in the hemisphere that have to grapple with severe frost and drought.
Hass is not only nutritional but an important antioxidant used to supplement diets low in potassium, iron, and unsaturated fats. Dermatologists recommend avocados to help repair scar tissue, ease skin disorders, and build stronger hair. But besides the physical benefits of eating an avocado-a-day, the fruit is also an important employer in the countryside, generating 5% of the workforce among Colombia’s rural population.
This is welcome news for a post-conflict scenario. As the world discovers the delight of sliced Hass on rye, or tossed in a garden salad, another homegrown fruit will soon hit the food shelves across the United States, bearing a very special label – “Grown in Colombia” – and harvested in a nation at peace.