Our Avo-conscious Commitment: Ethical Sourcing from Ethiopia

At Nutiva, we believe that a bright future for all is rooted in food—and for our farming partners in Ethiopia, that food is the beloved avocado. Discover the story behind our regeneratively grown and ethically sourced avocado oil that is helping build a brighter future for over 78,000 small organic farmers.

 

How avo-conscious are you? Peel back the skin on this beloved fruit and you’ll find there’s more to it than meets the eye—or mouth for that matter.

You might already be aware that avocado is rich in monounsaturated fats and vital nutrients such as potassium, folate and Vitamins K, C and E. Or that avocado oil is uniquely suited to high heat cooking given its whooping 500°F smoke point. Perhaps you even know some more technical trivia like the fact that avocado is botanically classified as a berry!

But when you dig a little deeper to understand the story behind the avocado, you quickly discover what lies beyond its excellent cooking oil and toast topping potential.

To us, being avo-conscious means being cognizant of the context behind your avocados (and avocado oil) and choosing those that align with your values. Avo-consciousness is what called us to find a source for avocado oil that meets our highest standards—not just nutritionally, but also ecologically and socially. We hope our story will inspire you to join us in our avo-conscious commitment.

 

Sourcing with Discernment

 

Our search for the value-aligned avocado oil brought us to Ethiopia where an emerging industry is proving the potential of a regenerative avocado value chain. You might be wondering why we traveled so far when our neighboring country of Mexico is by far the top producer of avocados.

The emerging market in Ethiopia stands in stark contrast to the booming avocado trade in North America that’s driven by a massive and historically unprecedented demand in the United States and fueled by a steady supply from Mexico.

This hunger for avocados is driving its “conflict commodity” status in Mexico, the native land of the buttery fruit. As reported by the risk analytics firm Verisk Maplecroft in a 2019 report, “Association with killings, modern slavery, child labour and environmental degradation is becoming an increasing risk when dealing with Michoacán [avocado] suppliers and growers, especially when establishing traceability is increasingly hard.”

Despite this dark side of “green gold,” most avocado oils on the market continue to be sourced from Mexico. What’s worse is that the high demand for fresh avocado fruit also means that most Mexican avocado oils are made from low grade, sometimes rotten fruit that is unsuitable for sale. According to recent research from food science experts at the University of California, Davis, at least 82% of avocado oil samples tested were found to be either rancid before their respective expiration dates or adulterated with other cheaper oils.

We knew there had to be a better way—and we found one! By working with our partners in Ethiopia, we supported the emergence of an alternative value chain that offers a higher quality organic product while enabling equitable development and ecological thriving.

 

From Obstacle to Opportunity

 

Located on the easternmost peninsula of the African continent known as the Horn of Africa, Ethiopia is a country known for its aromatic cuisine and iconic coffee beans. In fact, it’s believed to be the most likely native homeland of the coffee plant, Coffea arabica.

So where do avocados, a tree crop native to the tropical jungles of South America, fit within this landscape? In Sidama, the leading coffee producing region in Ethiopia, avocado trees soar above the coffee trees providing shade and shelter as part of a synergetic practice known as intercropping.

This technique is key to the regenerative land management system known as agroforestry which, as its name suggests, aims to emulate the natural formation of a forest. Shade-grown coffee is revered for both its high quality and its positive ecological impact.

All of the crops in these agroecological systems are certified organic, including the avocado trees, coffee trees, and other native plants. The fact that no harmful, synthetic pesticides or fertilizers are applied to the crops is not only healthier for you as a consumer, but also for the local ecology including the soil and water systems.

Despite the fact that these organic avocados are of the highest quality, there wasn’t much of a market for this secondary crop in Ethiopia. The avocado’s history in Ethiopia has been plagued with major inequities since first introduced by private orchardists in 1938. While avocados have been successfully incorporated as shade crops, they remain overshadowed by coffee in terms of marketability. The avocado varieties grown alongside coffee have thinner and more delicate skin which makes them unsuitable for transportation, especially not for international export.

Due to limited demand, infrastructure, and means of transportation, growers were receiving low prices for their avocados and had very little bargaining power. On top of that, most farmers relied on rough estimations of the weight and value of their crops with no reliable way of gauging fair prices.

But with an outlook geared towards innovation—one of Nutiva’s core values—obstacles like this become our opportunities. These thin-skinned avocados may not make it far by truck or ship when fresh, but they are perfect candidates for being pressed into oil—especially when the rich fruit is processed close to the point of harvest.

That’s why our supply partners invested in building an oil processing facility in Yirgalem at the heart of the organic coffee and avocado farming region. This new state-of-the-art facility has created over 300 well-paying jobs which also means that more of the value generated through this supply web stays closer to the point of origin.

All of these factors combined have led to more resources circulating within the local farming communities, supporting their economic resilience.

 

 

Empowerment through Education & Trust through Traceability

 

During the last four years, the supply network has grown to include more than 78,000 organically certified smallholder farmers whose livelihoods are bolstered by these new relationships. By diversifying the crops that they grow and sell, farmers not only increase the biodiversity of the land they steward but also increase their income streams.

This testament from female farmer, Maberat Geremu, speaks to the clear differences before and after the avocado oil business opportunity entered the picture:

“We started to sell our avocados by measuring and weighing, but before [this oil production existed] we were selling by judgment, without weighing avocados. We now have no fear of who is going to buy or collect our avocados. But before this, the low price of avocado was not adequate. Traders were only buying avocados at very low prices for resale at fresh markets in big cities. Now the price is getting higher because there is competition in the market. Farmers are encouraged to and have started planting more avocado [to meet this new demand].”

Education has also played an instrumental role in creating positive change, with Nutiva’s partners teaching organic and regenerative avocado farming methods and business skills through in-field schools—now with over 5,000 successful graduates to date. Local nursery education programs are also helping to create economic independence for women. Thirty women are currently enrolled in a year-long program, each of whom will graduate with the tools to run their own successful avocado nurseries to feed this growing industry. Education about composting, pollinator management and safe avocado harvesting methods are also furthering sustainability initiatives and creating new opportunities within these communities.

While regenerative farming techniques rely on ancient knowledge, farm and supply chain management for avocado growers in Ethiopia is very modern. A mobile app has been developed and is now being used by farmers to capture transactions and in-field data that not only maintains organic certification, but also enables a truly transparent and equitable supply chain. The development of this technology continues to measure and optimize environmental, social, and economic impact throughout the value chain.

This level of transparency also prevents the risk of adulteration which we know impacts most product products on the market. We’ve verified that our oil is exactly what we say it is, so that you can cook and create with confidence.

 

 

Get Cooking with Confidence

 

If you’re ready to get avo-conscious by adding regeneratively-grown and ethically-sourced avocado oil to your diet, look no further. Our 100% Pure Avocado Oil offers a neutral flavor and 500°F smoke point ideal for high heat cooking, while our Extra Virgin option is more flavorful and suited to medium heat cooking up to 375°F. Our organic avocado oils are available for purchase here on Nutiva.com and from our retailers—online at Amazon, iHerb, and Vitacost, we all as in stores at Sprouts, Costco, and select independent natural grocers. Our store locator tool can help you find a retailer near you.

The list of avocado oil uses is endless given its vast versatility and neutral flavor profile. You can feel confident using it in place of nearly any cooking oil, for medium to high heat cooking, grilling, stir-frying, baking, broiling and more.

Here are some recommended recipes to inspire your culinary creativity:

Stay tuned to learn more about how Nutiva is creating a brighter future for Ethiopian farmers while fighting climate change through regenerative farming and community development.

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