A. Asnawi, Pasuruan, Indonesia – Indonesia is one of the world's largest producers of food commodities, but until recently this archipelago of 270 million people produced relatively little avocado. Julianto Effendi is among a growing number of farmers trying to change that.
"In the past [avocado] wasn't really given much of a look," Julianto told Mongabay Indonesia near an avocado orchard in East Java province. "Almost all farmers have the trees now."
On an April day, neat rows of avocado trees line the hillside below Mount Arjuna, a short drive from the mid-sized city of Malang. The land taken up by avocado trees here has expanded in recent years as demand for the fruit has increased and farmers explore new ways to grow value.
Avocado trees fare best in soil that drains well, with only slight acidity or alkalinity.
In recent decades, avocado production has grown around the world, tracking demand from health-conscious consumers for a fruit rich in healthy fats and nutrients.
Indonesia plants most of the world's oil palm and is the second-largest source of cassava, after Nigeria. According to the latest data from the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), Indonesia still produces fewer avocados than Colombia and the Dominican Republic, which are both much smaller countries in terms of territory and population. However, in the five years to 2020, avocado production in Indonesia has more than doubled, exceeding 600,000 metric tons.
The world's largest avocado producer, Mexico, produced about 2.4 million metric tons in 2020, mainly to feed the U.S. market. Analysts expect significant room for demand growth in Asia.
As chair of the Pasuruan Avocado Education Foundation, Julianto has the depth of both knowledge and network to raise capacity for growers in this area of East Java, which lies just to the west of Java's famous Bromo Tengger Semeru National Park.
"We can discuss a great deal in the foundation, from what do in an outbreak of disease and post-harvest treatment to strengthening branding," Julianto said.
Farmers here have planted dozens of varieties of avocado trees, taking advantage of soil and altitude characteristics that are friendly to these species of trees. One variety, from Hawai'i, yields fruit as large as 3 kilograms (nearly 7 pounds) each, a good payday for the Pasuruan avocado farmers.
"These have larger fruit size and the ability to produce fruit throughout the year," Julianto said.
Under Julianto's guidance, farmers have formed a cooperative, cutting out middlemen and enabling direct market access and higher farmgate prices.
"In the past the price was set [by middlemen]," he explained. Now, suppliers to wet markets and other trade buy wholesale via the cooperative, giving the farmers stronger bargaining power. It's not as easy to mess around with it," Julianto said of the farmgate price.
The Pasuruan cooperative comprises 42 farmers who cultivate 4,100 trees on a combined 52 hectares (128 acres) of land. Annual production from this plantation area can reach 200 metric tons. A further 14 hectares (35 hectares) have yet to be planted and another 12,000 trees – barely more than year-old saplings – have yet to reach maturity.
Accounting for this pipeline, Julianto said he hopes Tambaksari village can soon become a center for avocado production in East Java. Reaching scale could catalyze new value-added industries, he said, such as services offered by the apple orchards in nearby Batu, a popular local tourism area.
Julianto brought over one of Tambaksari's giant Hawaiian avocados, which some farmers have only just begun to cultivate. "With a per kilo price of around 35,000 rupiah [$2.40], it means that one fruit is already over 100,000 rupiah [$6.80]."
The outlook for avocado production isn't without risks, however, and climate change presents arguably the greatest threat to producers here in East Java.
A 2022 study published in the journal PLOS One found areas suitable for avocado production will decrease as temperatures rise.The Pasuruan farmers are becoming more concerned by these environmental risks. On April 28, three farmers here in Pasuruan were killed in a landslide triggered by heavy rain in Puspo subdistrict.
Data from the Pasuruan office of Indonesia's national statistics agency showed avocado production reached 742.3 metric tons in 2019, but then declined steeply over the next three years, reaching 292.4 metric tons in 2022.
Local farmer Dedy Sumanto, who has planted 56 varieties of avocado, blamed the decline on the weather. "The intensity of the rain has been very high these last few years," Dedy said. "It must have had an impact."