Avocado farmers in Kenya have started investing in peeling and freezing facilities to access the Chinese market which they see as having the potential to take nearly half of the national production, research by FinancialDay has found.
Avocado is predominantly grown by small scale farmers in Kenya and it is therefore only when they will build capacity to qualify for the huge Chinese market that a change in fortunes will be realised.
This is why an initiative by the Kirinyaga Avocado Growers Cooperative Society Limited, to invest in a pack and processing house for avocado will set the pace for other small scale farmers across avocado growing regions in Kenya to benefit from the massive Chinese market.
“We are very keen on China. China is the best market. China market is what will give us the best revenue for our avocado,” said Enos Gicanga Muriuki, the chairman of the Kirinyaga Avocado Growers Cooperative Society Limited.
“Ask me why? They want a ripe avocado, that is peeled, frozen and has no seed in it. So this allows us to sell many varieties of avocado as long as they meet this criterion unlike the European market that is only increasingly accepting Hass variety because it’s hard skin makes it stay longer when ripe,” he said.
Gicanga said the society today has been given a grant of Sh140 million (U.S$1.3 million) and a portion of land near Kagio Market in Kirinyaga County, where an avocado processing and pack how will be constructed before the end of this year. The money is a grant from the World Bank through the government of Kenya.
“We are about to start. The pack and processing house will be used to grade and package avocado for export to Europe and the Middle East, process, package and freeze for China market and also process others to get raw materials for products like cooking and cosmetic oil,” said the chairman.
Kirinyaga farmers who grow Fuerte and Hass varieties of avocados have been exporting for ages but unfortunately through brokers who have been buying the fruits at rock bottom prices, as low as Sh1 just a few years ago, which later improved to an average of Sh6 per fruit.
But the market is opening now, attributed to better flow of information and devolution which has enabled county governments to focus more on new potential alternative cash crops like avocado and macadamia.
“This year, some farmers, including myself sold Hass variety for as high as Sh35 per fruit. We now know the poverty alleviation and wealth creation potential of this fruit and this is why we are investing in it,” Gicanga told FinancialDay in an interview.
Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Service (Kephis) which is in charge of the checking compliance of avocado to the Chinese market, only one farmer had met the criteria for export by the end of last year.
The Avocado Association of Kenya also confirmed that the farmer is a commercial grower meaning that the impact of exports to China was negligible.
President Uhuru Kenyatta and President Xi Jinping signed a deal in April 2019 allowing Kenya to export avocados to China.
Increasing avocado production
The project also involves increasing production of avocado, especially the Hass variety who oil content is higher than other varieties and therefore has potential t0p provide high raw materials and its referenced taste has become popular among consumers.
The chairman said private agricultural consultants will be hired to supplement the efforts of agricultural extension officers in the county and will focus on value addition, market resource, technology improvement, innovation.
“We were looking forward to getting expert training on how to increase our productivity it will also save the farmers from poor farming methods, which is partly attributed to low yields,” said Gicanga.