MURANGA COUNTY, KENYA - Kenyan farmer Alexander Muchiri tends 30 avocado trees he planted seven years ago on his farm in Muranga County.
In previous years, most of his avocados were sold locally, providing a modest income for him, his wife and five children.
Then in April, Kenya signed a deal to export avocados to China, making Kenya the only African nation to sell the fruit to the huge Chinese consumer market.
With that in mind, Muchiri says he will scale up production by planting more trees.
He says if they plant more avocados, there will be a market for them. In previous years, brokers would come, pick the larger fruits and leave the smaller ones on the farms with no one to sell to, Muchiri said, wasting lots of fruit.
Potential buyers visit
About 2 kilometers from Muchiri’s farm, Beatrice Mugure inspects her 300 avocado trees. She used to grow coffee on her eight-acre farm but switched to avocados a few years ago as the price of coffee dropped and the market for avocados expanded.
Her avocado trees are about three years old, Mugure said, and are giving her their first fruits. She says potential buyers have come to her farm several times to check the avocados and pick samples, and they will be coming back for the harvest.
The potential buyers Mugure is talking about are private exporting companies.
Kenya’s Ministry of Trade says that the Chinese market will take in more than 40 percent of Kenya’s avocado crop, putting Kenya in the top rank of avocado exporters.
But there is one catch, says Kenya’s Cabinet Secretary for Trade and Industrialization Peter Munya.
“Usually when you want to export something outside, there are standards you have to meet and when they came to assess the situation of avocados, there were found to be some flies, which made it difficult for us to be allowed to export raw avocados, and a decision was made to have frozen avocados exported,” Munya said.
Farmers or traders are required to freeze the fruits to minus 30 degrees Celsius to get rid of the pests and minus 18 degrees for transit. Many farmers worry that the strict requirement will prevent them from directly exporting the produce.
Munya says they will help Kenyan farmers who do not have facilities to freeze their crops for export to China.
“We are looking at building capacity for Kenya National Trading Cooperation to support small-scale farmers to aggregate and that’s already in the budget,” he said. “We have resources to support KNTC to upgrade its warehouses and then export.”
Kenyan exporters say they are also planning to make investments in cold storage to meet the requirements for accessing the Chinese market.
In the meantime, Kenyan avocado farmers will rely on farmer cooperatives to find other markets willing to buy their produce fresh from the farm.