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County invests in sustainable avocado farming

The County Government of Nakuru has launched a sustained campaign to revitalize avocado farming, with eyes set on international markets.

County Executive Committee Member (CECM) in Charge of Agriculture, Livestock, Fisheries, and Cooperatives, Mr. Leonard Bor, said the devolved unit was collaborating with stakeholders in the avocado subsector in training farmers on enhancing the competitiveness of avocado value-added products.

The CECM said the venture, a partnership with the Avocado Society of Kenya (ASOK), mainly targets smallholder farmers, who are also being trained on export processes, quality planting materials, proper farming techniques, farm mechanization, accessing reliable market links, and affordable credit facilities.

He added that the county was keen on focusing on international markets instead of selling the fruit to middlemen at throwaway prices, where he said they buy the one fruit for about Sh10 and Sh15, reaping huge profits at the expense of farmers.

The CECM stated that Governor Susan Kihika’s administration had embarked on diversification to promote the farming of avocados and macadamias alongside other traditional crops like coffee and potatoes.

“We have mainly singled out the avocado crop as a potential income earner for our farmers due to the high demand both locally and internationally,” said Mr. Bor.

Speaking at his office after meeting officials of the Nakuru Association for Avocado Growers, the CECM indicated that the devolved unit and its partners were further sensitizing the farmers on the new avocado export regulations announced by the Horticulture Crops Directorate towards ensuring that Kenyan fruits are competitive in the global export market.

At least 15 firms have been cleared by Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Services (Kephis) to export avocados to China following a stringent inspection of their facilities. This is in addition to the fact that more than three million Kenyan smallholder farmers who grow avocados are expected to benefit from greater access to the Chinese market.

The partnership, Mr. Bor said, was critical in ensuring the success of a sustained campaign launched to revitalize avocado farming, adding that farmers have been trained on good harvest and post-harvest handling practices of the fruit and good manufacturing practices for smallholder processing.

He further said avocado value-addition, besides increasing the county’s export portfolio, was also targeting to reduce post-harvest losses and shield farmers from exploitation by middlemen.

“Value addition and processing prolongs the shelf-life of the produce and minimizes post-harvest losses. It also offers more profit on the same produce and improves the nutrition and living conditions of those involved,” he added.

The CECM at the same time urged avocado farmers to join cooperative societies to boost their incomes and prevent their exploitation by middlemen, adding that through bulking, cooperatives have been able to reduce the cost of marketing and enabled farmers to realize higher returns through the provision of a reliable and remunerative outlet for produce.

He appreciated the fact that the cooperative movement had evolved over the past two decades into a key cog that turns the wheels of the agriculture sector in Kenya by extending its business beyond the primary role of marketing produce for small-holder farmers and venturing into the provision of financial services.

The CECM also noted that cooperatives were the only structured channels through which the national and county governments could support smallholder farmers in value addition, accessing quality equipment and affordable credit facilities, and procuring superior seedlings, among other benefits.

On revised export regulations, Mr. Bor said most farmers were now aware that the Horticulture Crops Directorate had raised the minimum solid content for export avocados from 20 and 21 per cent for Fuerte and Hass varieties respectively to 24 per cent in order to comply with international standards.

According to the Horticulture Crops Directorate, avocados rank as the fourth most important national fruit crop and have grown to represent 17 per cent of Kenya’s total horticultural exports.

About 70 per cent of avocado production is by small-scale growers who grow it for subsistence, local markets, and export.

By Esther Mwangi and Sam Karanja

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