Esau Kioni from Nyeri is the former security adviser of President Mwai Kibaki. Edwin Muriithi is a primary school cum farmer in Kirinyaga. Elias Matiba from Murang’a is still a student at the University of Nairobi. James Mutuota is a small-scale farmer in Meru. They may not know each other but they are part of the avocado farming brigade that could grow avocado earnings Mt. Kenya region more than coffee and tea which combined brought in Sh149 billion last year.
Kenya, courtesy of Mt. Kenya region is set to become a major producer of avocado in the world in the next ten years, from its current seventh position because of millions of new avocado trees planted in the last three years.
Forecast by industry players and research conducted by MT. KENYA STAR, confirm that Kenya is on the verge of rivalling top avocado producers like Mexico, Peru and Chile.
Millions of new avocado trees have been planted in Mt. Kenya region in the last three years, and more are to being planted following growing awareness of the fruit’s market potential, a situation which has resulted in companies from as far as New Zealand and Israel setting up avocado growing and processing operations in the country.
Locally, agriculture companies like Kakuzi have announced that they have abandoned growing of pineapple in favour of avocado, as the world market fights for a share of locally grown fruit which is sweeter and has more oil content. The company has expanded into buying the fruit from farmers.
“Kakuzi has taken a decision to discontinue the fresh pineapple operation in favour of planting the area to Pinkerton avocado. Sales of pineapple will eventually be phased out in 2018,” said Paul Mbugua, Kakuzi’s head of horticultural department. He attributed the company’s improved profits for 2017 to higher demand for avocado and macadamia in the international market.
Although national earnings from avocado were dwarfed by those of coffee and tea in 2016, the situation is likely to change in the next ten years if the growing of the fruit is sustained and organized, industry players say
Statistics from the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics show that avocado earned the country Sh6.5 billion compared to coffee’s Sh18.8 billion and tea’s Sh129 billion in 2017.
So far, hundreds of farmers in Mt. Kenya region and parts of the Rift Valley have planted avocado fruits thanks to concerted efforts of private sector organiations, county government and national government agencies.
For instance, most county governments in Mt. Kenya region have given millions of free avocado seedlings for free in partnership with Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Service (Kephis).
County Government of Murang’a has invested in more than three million free seedlings to farmers while Nyeri is to give two million seedlings to farmers. Companies like Amiran Kenya have brought in improved seedlings from Israel for the local market. Market for seedlings improved at farm level is also booming according to online interactions of farmers on platforms like to Digital Farmers Kenya, based on monitoring by this newspaper.
Huge Market Potential
It is not by fluke that all these companies, county governments and individuals are investing in avocado. The reality of the international market is to be found in statistics which offer Kenya unrivalled opportunities to become world’s top producer of the crop.
According to Roan Yariv, the Business Development Manager of Amiran Kenya, the biggest advantage with Kenya is that its climate is suitable for avocado growing as the crop requires areas with at least 1000mm of rainfall.
“Where rainfall is not adequate, we advise Kenya farmers to use irrigation solutions which are widely available in the local market. We have many buyers in Europe whom we can connect the Kenyan farmers to,” he said.
Kenya is the 7th biggest producer of avocados in the world with average annual production of avocados with 191,000 tonnes per year compared to Mexico, the first in the world with 1.5 million tonnes per year, according to Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO).
“Kenya can be the leading producer and export if it can address the challenge of increasing irrigation to ensure better yield and uniformity of avocado fruits, increase avocado acreage under production, and improve the quality of avocado fruits by planting the right variety,” said Yariv.
Evidence of the market potential was released in March this year by a global research company known as Persistence Market Research. According to the findings, Kenya only accounts for 0.05 percent of income earned from avocado across the world.
The research reveals that in 2017, global market for avocado was valued at Sh13 trillion. This value is expected to more than double to Sh23 trillion by the year 2027 – in the next nine years -, the research notes.
It means that if Kenya fights to earn only 3 percent of this value, avocado will generate Sh690 billion for Kenyan farmers by 2027, a feat not even tea or coffee may reach by then unless there is a drastic increase in prices paid to farmers.
Unlike other forms of get-rich-quick schemes that Kenyans have endured and lost billions of shillings, avocado farming enthusiasm appears to be driven by genuine consumer market demand and most importantly, this demand is global.
It is unlike the quail birds farming which was driven by hearsay. Avocado farming is not a new business as many in Kenya have been on it for tens of years but on a small scale.
One of the key drivers of avocado demand is the rise of healthy lifestyle living especially in Europe, United States, Middle East, Australia, Japan and New Zealand, countries which already have high levels of income hence guaranteeing higher purchasing power.
According to various studies, avocado has high nutritional value that helps people live healthy and avoid diseases like cancers of the stomach, hearth diseases, helps remove waste in the body, and protection from diseases like stroke among many others.
There is a growing wave of healthy living across the world driven by emergence of diseases associated with modern living where most of the foods are processed and therefore contain chemicals harmful to the human bodies. Avocados that are grown organically -without use of harmful chemicals – like those of Kenya are therefore gaining popular acceptance in the world to supplement processed foods.
Demand is also driven by industries that process the fruit into oils. Avocado oil is used in the manufacture of medicine, beauty products and consumer goods like cooking oil.
For instance, at the online supermarket known as Jumia, 120ml of avocado oil costs Sh420. A litter would therefore cost Sh3,500. The international price wholesale price for a litre of avocado oil is about Sh8,000.
The third key driver of demand is the Chinese market. Research indicates that avocado fruit is becoming a status symbol among the 100 million Chinese middle class.
“It has been established that Chinese middle class is willing to pay more for the product. This demand can be explained by the increase in export to China by various countries such as Chile,” said British-based University of Huddersfield lecturer David Harvey.
“So avocado demand in China is being doubly driven, not only by their promised health benefits, but equally by their newness, exclusivity and symbolic, aspirational value to the burgeoning middle class.” Because of its protein and oil content – more than any other fruit – it has been adopted by fitness gurus and health-conscious social media users as a core part of nutrition.
Bernard Kimutai, an agronomist with Fair Trade Enterprises Limited told agriculture content publisher FarmBiz Africa that the company is seeking 10,000 farmers to grow hass variety of avocados to meet its demand of over 690 tonnes of avocados that it exports to European Union markets every month.
“We have big markets in EU given it is only Spain which produces avocadoes for export in the whole of Europe. We are also near to winning a market in the U.S which will see our export demand rise soon,” he said during the avocado conference in Meru earlier this month.
“Given most farmers involved in avocado production are small-scale farmers, we, in our contract farming system urge farmers to be in groups to enable them meet the production demand,” he said.
Asif Amin, the Managing Director Keitt Exporters in Kenya said in an earlier interview that the demand for Kenyan avocados has been on an upward trend for the last three years. “We are looking into a very good future as the demand can only get better,” he said.
Like Kimutai, he encouraged farmers to form umbrella groups to enhance efficiency, enable them meet demand with quality fruits and make it easier in terms of training and trading.
Steve Barnard, President of Oxnard, U.S-based Mission Produce, the world’s largest distributor of avocados said avocado market is doubling every year.
“It appears to just double every year, from what we’ve seen. It maybe more than double this year (2018).”
Where it Started
In March 2014, a year after he was first elected governor for Murang’a, Mwangi Wa Iria launched an initiative to streamline the marketing of avocado fruit. Murang’a is one of the top producers of avocado by small holder farmers, providing sizeable chunk of household income.
Then, one avocado was being bought at an average one shilling by brokers. Some would buy it at fifty cents. The brokers would either sell to local processors or export directly. Yet, in the export market, the fruit fetched much more money.
Among the first steps the Governor Wa Iria first took was to negotiate with processors and bulk exporters to create direct linkages with farmers in Murang’a. Long story short, the cost of one avocado immediately increased to Sh8. Today, farmers sell one avocado as much as Sh25.
The county has also formed the Murang’a County Avocado Farmers Sacco. Last year, farmers in Murang’a were paid Sh20 million as their annual bonus following direct contact with a processors and exporters prominent being Kakuzi, whose farming activities are based in the county.
That initiative by Governor Wa Iria set the pace for the current growing awareness of opportunities of avocado fruit and improved prices, setting the stage for it to become one of the top income earners for farmers in Mt. Kenya region.
SOURCE MT. KENYA STAR MAGAZINE