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Growing high-end avocados for the world in Shan State

Daniel Bennett, managing director and co-founder of Shan Orchard Myanmar, reckons Myanmar is the perfect place for the company to reach its goal of growing up to 100 acres of premium Hass avocados for export.

“We are interested in southern Shan, where our orchard is, because of its unique subtropical/temperate climate, which is ideal for crops ranging from mangoes to wheat, potatoes to rice, as well as Hass avocados. You can grow a wide range of produce that you cannot grow in other Southeast Asian countries like Indonesia and the Philippines, which are generally too hot and very wet,” Bennett said.

“The other reason I came to Shan State was because the Shan Plateau has an abundance of flat land that is conducive cost-wise to our goal of producing Hass avocados and related products like edible oils and guacamole for export,” he said.

Shan Orchard Myanmar was established in 2017 by New Zealander Bennett, who has 15 years of experience in early-stage agricultural firms and large established plantations across Asia, and local entrepreneurs Nathan Naing Win and Thel Suu Thinzar Bo. It is a wholly owned registered company specialising in producing Hass avocado oil for export.

The oil, which is cold pressed and extra virgin, is generally used in the high-end food industry as a salad dressing, and is a beautiful green-gold colour.

Shan Orchard began oil operations in War Yone Bin village near Heho International Airport in Kalaw township this year, sourcing avocados from around 200 smallholders throughout southern Shan. With global demand expected to continue growing over the next three years, Shan Orchard plans to produce 200 million tonnes of avocado oil per year, and to expand its orchard area from 30 acres to 100 acres.

High-end food product

The avocado oil will be mainly exported to a company in Switzerland that will bottle and distribute the avocado oil as a high-end food product. Its target markets are China, Japan, Indonesia, South Korea, Singapore, and Malaysia, but will also include local store chains such as Citymart and Metro Grocery.

Hass avocados are the most commonly grown avocado variety in the world. Its fruit has high oil content and a very nutty, rich taste. Its flesh is smooth textured and it has a thick skin casing. The fruit ripens between September and February in southern Shan. Hass is the main avocado variety grown in New Zealand, accounting for 95 percent of its acreage. Also, Hass accounts for 80pc of avocados consumed around the world.

The lower quality oil from local varieties found in Myanmar can be either used for a lower grade cooking oil or blended cooking oil, but it is mainly used in a wide range of cosmetics, soaps, shampoo, moisturisers, and facemasks.

“We follow Global GAP (good agricultural practices). But the great thing about avocado oil is that it can also be produced from lesser quality fruit. So for example, in the future farmers might want to sell their best quality fresh and second grades to us. This is why the production of avocado oil is a good business for southern Shan State, because we can turn the second grade product into something high value. In the past, the second grade struggled to find a good market,” Bennett said.

Shan Orchard Myanmar secured an investment of US$1 million from Anthem Asia, the first investment by its $50-million Myanmar SME Venture Fund. The proceeds will be used for purchasing an avocado oil processing facility and acquiring farmland.

“Shan Orchard offers a first-mover opportunity in a premium agri-product category in Myanmar, which has many natural advantages,” Josephine Price, managing director of Anthem Asia Myanmar SME Venture Fund, said in a statement.

“The avocado oil processing will be running by the end of the year with supplies coming from dozens of local farmers. In the future, we will also source international grade avocados from our own plantations.”

Commitment to quality

The strategy of combining avocados from its own orchards as well as from other properly-managed growers is an attractive model for building sustainable agribusinesses and improving the lives of rural people. “We will continue to improve the quality and consistency of the raw material and process it into commercial quantities of high-end avocado oil for domestic and overseas customers,” Bennett said.

Shan Orchard is using its management expertise to add value to other high-end crops. It is experimenting with high-value rice types, and plans to grow other high-value products with avocados to maximise land use and seasonality.

Led by women, Anthem Asia was launched in 2013 with a focus on providing growth and expansion capital to small-and-medium enterprises in Myanmar. Anthem Asia has amassed 10 portfolio companies, including influencer managers Piyawasa, digital agency ERA Myanmar, property marketing and management platform Thahara, serviced office space provider Hintha Business Centres, marketing agency Blink, marketing communications firm Zagar Communications, and mobile data collection platform Xavey.

“Myanmar has a very bright future especially agriculturally. Anthem Asia is calculated, brave, and doing things the right way here with a sense of urgency. My message to the investment and agricultural community is to be brave. Come to Myanmar, invest and build lasting businesses,” Bennett said.

“Honestly, Myanmar is one of the easiest places in the world to do business. Things happen quickly here. People work hard and learn fast. An example of things happening quickly is the new DICA [Directorate of Investment and Company Administration] website for company incorporation. It is quick and simple to use,” he added.

Source: Myanmar Times

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