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Nakuru donates avocado seedlings to boost agribusiness

Nakuru Governor, Ms. Susan Kihika, has rolled out an initiative to supply farmers with 63,000 avocado seedlings with an eye on regional and international markets.

As it seeks to unlock the untapped potential in the subsector running into billions of shillings, the devolved unit has disclosed that it will supply farmers in the 11 Sub-Counties with the seedlings free of charge as it seeks to promote agribusiness.

The avocados are expected to be ready in 16 months, when the fruits will be harvested for export.

County Executive Committee Member (CECM) in Charge of Agriculture, Livestock, Fisheries, and Cooperatives, Mr. Leonard Bor, said Ms. Kihika’s administration would collaborate with various stakeholders in laying the groundwork for exportation of the fruits once they are ready for market.

He stated, “The variety we are giving out is different from other types that begin to flower after five years. One avocado in the international market can fetch as much as Sh50. As a county government, we are preparing our farmers so that we can benefit from the global demand for the crop. After 16 months from the planting date, the avocado trees will be giving fruits.”

Speaking when he launched the distribution of 13,600 avocado seedlings to farmers in Kuresoi South Sub-county, the CECM indicated that the county will establish avocado purchasing, sorting, and packing bays as it seeks to tap into the international market.

The bays are expected to give farmers a direct market locally and abroad and eliminate brokers.

“We want to focus on the regional and international market outlets instead of selling the crop to brokers at throwaway prices. Brokers buy the fruit for between Sh10 and Sh15 but reap huge profits at the expense of farmers,” he said.

This is part of a grand plan by the county to help farmers tap into the East African and foreign export markets through value addition.

“We have identified avocados as a potential income earner for our farmers due to the high demand both locally and internationally,” he added.

Avocados rank as Kenya’s fourth-most important national fruit crop and have grown to represent 17 per cent of Kenya’s total horticultural exports.

Mr. Bor revealed that the devolved unit had put strategies in place to recruit more new farmers to grow the crop, adding that the acreage under the crop currently stood at over 5,000.

He said the devolved unit had successfully transitioned avocado farmers in Nakuru from subsistence farming and encouraged them to embrace high-value export markets.

“In the current financial year, the county administration aims to distribute seedlings to more than 3,743 farmers in Kuresoi South Sub-county under the avocado seedling distribution program. The County is reinforcing sensitization to crop diversification, increasing income, and promoting food and nutrition security. The Department will continue to distribute avocado seedlings in other sub-counties during this rainy season,” stated Mr. Bor.

The CECM said pests and diseases that afflict horticultural produce, particularly the False Codling Moth (Thaumatotibia leucotreta) (FCM), are classified by the EU as ‘quarantine pests or diseases, which effectively render agricultural produce from infested farms ineligible for the lucrative market.

“We believe that it is valuable to invest in the early detection of pests, like the False Codling Moth (FCM), at the farm level and the prevention of their spread throughout the value chain.

Both large-scale and small-holder horticultural farmers in Kenya should interact with the experts and ask questions on the detection of pests and diseases,” said Mr. Bor.

Mr. Bor said the devolved unit was collaborating with stakeholders in the avocado subsector to train 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.

The CECM stated that Governor 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.

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.

The CECM was accompanied by Agriculture Chief Officer Kibet Kurgat, County Director of Agriculture Mr. Fredrick Owino, Keringet Ward Member of County Assembly Mr. William Mutai, and his Kiptagich Ward counterpart Ms. Rose Mutai.

He further said avocado value-addition, besides increasing the county’s export portfolio, was also targeted to reduce post-harvest losses.

“Value addition and processing prolong the shelf-life of the produce and minimize post-harvest losses. It also offers more profit on the same produce and improves the nutrition and living conditions of those involved,” the CEC 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 enable 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.

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

By Jane Ngugi and Angela Cherotich

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