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Kisii avocado processing plant to benefit thousands of farmers

The British High Commissioner to Kenya Jane Marriott, and the Kisii County Governor Simba Arati have commissioned an avocado oil extraction project at the Kisii Agricultural Training Center (ATC), with a capacity to process up to 70 tonnes of avocadoes daily.

The processing plant, commissioned Tuesday will utilize locally sourced products and those from the neighbouring counties to produce avocado oil mainly for the export market.

The investment project is a partnership between the British government and the AvoFresh Processors Limited, which has been implemented by the UK’s Sustainable Urban Economic Development Programme (SUED) in collaboration with Kisii County and the Kisii Municipality.

“The commissioning of this facility is a demonstration that by working in partnership, it is possible to come up with real opportunities and empower our people to cope with daily challenges,” said Marriott.

The UK ambassador further said that the extraction facility will in the first year create 95 direct jobs, 100 induced jobs and will work with 1000 farmers, which will eventually increase to 3,000 in the subsequent years.

The facility will also provide an opportunity for farmers to access markets for their produce and reduce wastage that results to post-harvest loss.

Marriot noted the factory will go a long way in capacity building the community and sensitizing them on tackling the biggest global challenge, which is climate change.

She applauded the County Governor for cracking a whip on corruption saying this move will minimize exploitation of farmers by middle men.

On his part, Arati thanked the UK Government for supporting the county to accomplish what he termed a noteworthy venture for Kisii residents, which would enable farmers to access a ready market for their avocadoes.

“I have instructed the department of agriculture to give the investor full support to ensure sustainability of this project and we shall continue mobilizing our farmers through their respective cooperative societies to ensure continuous and sustainable supply of raw
materials,” he said.

The governor said that his office will continue reaching out to the British High Commissioner and other development partners for support to enable them reap maximum benefits from the project.

“While respecting the principles of a free market economy, I ask the management of AvoFresh to try as much and ensure that our farmers, who have suffered in the hands of middlemen for many years, get value for their hard earned labour,” Arati stated.

Avofresh project manager David Gitonga said that over the last few months they managed to work with the County government to actualize the processing facility by ensuring that farmers within the County are aware of the processing facility and further thanked the UK government for both financial and technical support.

The Avocado Oil Extraction Facility will process avocado oil, initially crude avocado oil, but will in time progress to include extra virgin avocado oil and virgin avocado oil, promote the utilization of oil, including rich avocado oil varieties such as Hass to increase the extraction
yield of the fruits.

At the same time, it will capacity build farmers through extension services by training them on proper implementation of agroforestry and good agricultural practices to enhance their avocado fruit production.

Gitonga said the UK Government had played a key role in catalyzing this investment by providing expert advice and Sh79 million in seed fund support.

“The seed fund was utilized in building the logistical framework to maximize fruit collection through the purchase of nine (9) trucks that are used for the transportation of avocado across the county to the facility,” Gitonga said.

The County Director Agro Processing, value addition and marketing Jasper Nyakundi had earlier on indicated that the project was initially funded by the county government on Go down construction to a tune of Sh9.4 million in less than 1.8 acres land.

Avofresh then acquired processing machinery, paid for water and power connectivity as well as carter for operations and maintenance.

Nyakundi had said that the venture had the ability of employing over 300 other employees along the value chain such as bodaboda transporters, probox aggregators, and community harvesters among others.

According to an Agriculture Sector Development Support Programme (ASDSP market Survey, 2014), there are 809,049 avocado trees in Kisii, where 641,746 are of Jumbo variety and 161,936 are of Hass variety.

The survey also shows that the current production per avocado tree is 1,000 fruits and the tree produces at least 300Kg of avocados per year, with each avocado weighing 300gm.

“Hass avocado starts yielding in 18 months and reaches peak between 3-5 years with a kilo costing sh90, where the jumbo sells at sh40 per kg, but when exported in grade 1 it sells at sh60 per piece,” Nyakundi stated.

He added that each variety has different characteristics such as storability, oil content, taste, shape, color, size, skin surface and nutrient content.

According to the local farmers the lifespan of an avocado tree was between 25 and 40 years, while during the life time of an avocado tree, various productive stages can be identified.

The first fruits appear about 3 to 4 years after planting for an avocado tree, which was planted through a seed.

A grafted avocado tree produces its first fruits after 2 to 3 years. The first serious harvests are obtained from the fifth until the 10th year, after which the tree achieves its main productive stage until the yields start to decline after the 25th year.

Nyakundi explained that the Current export countries of avocados are China, USA, India, Mexico, and South Korea.

By Martin Ndichu/Jane Naitore

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