Farmers in Wundanyi, Taita Taveta, have launched a sustained campaign to revitalise avocado farming as they seek to tap into the lucrative and expansive export market.
The farmers are shifting to avocado production as they eye the Chinese and other international markets.
In April 2019, the government reached a deal with China to open up its market to Kenyan avocados.
Kenya currently ships the bulk of its avocados to Europe and the Middle East. Avocado is its leading export fruit.
The farmers switched to avocado after incurring huge losses growing maize because of low rains, pests, diseases low low prices in the market.
The farmers are seeking to plant over 16,000 Hass avocado trees by next year, with every homestead being encouraged to take up the opportunity to tap into the export market.
The Hass variety takes three years to mature and requires little water to survive and produce fruits.
Josphat Mbela of the Boresha Maisha youth group, said most farmers sell their avocado locally to provide a modest income for their families.
“Many households in the county have been planting avocado trees on a small scale mainly for subsistence use and as a source of income,” he said.
Farmers have now scaled up production by planting more trees to increase avocado production, he said.
The 15 members of his group have planted 300 seedlings and aim to increase the number to 1,000 in the next one year.
“We are distributing the seedlings to other farmers to grow the variety on their farms,” he said.
But he lamented that avocado farming had not been of much benefit to them as they are exploited by middlemen who buy the fruit at poor prices and in low quantities.
He said farmers are planning to form a group where growers will consolidate their produce for the local and export markets.
“For now we are strategising to tap into the export market. We have received training on grafting so we will expand our nursery and encourage our members to plant more trees,” he said.
Another farmer, Meshack Mwaita, said they are ready to tap into the export trade.
Mr Mwaita, who has six productive avocado trees, says lack of a market has been a challenge for farmers. He said they rely on middlemen to buy the fruits.
“We sometimes feed the avocados to our pigs because we don’t have a reliable market,” he said.
He said they were about to give up on avocado farming due to lack of information and the available export opportunities.
Some 20 young people have been trained on grafting techniques and establishing Hass avocado nurseries.
“This is a good venture for young people and that is why we want to get into avocado farming,” said another farmer, Charles Mwamodenyi of the Mogho youth group.
Wundanyi MP Danson Mwashako said the aim of the project is to improve the livelihoods of residents.
He said the avocado produce will enable the farmers to pay school fees for their children as most parents depend on CDF bursaries.
“We are encouraging the farmers to diversify because avocado has become a major export crop within the horticulture sector and is fetching good money to farmers. If farmers start producing quality fruits they would increase their incomes,” he said.
On average, a farmer can earn up to Sh1 million annually from an acre of avocado trees if quality standards are strictly followed.
This can fetch more money compared to maize farming where the farmers keep incurring huge losses annually, the MP said.
The growers will also undergo training on best practices in avocado farming so they produce quality fruits.
The farmers, Mr Mwashako said, can also be supported by value addition to venture into soap and avocado oil production.
Apart from the avocado project, the MP has also embarked on a diversification project to promote farming of pixie oranges on Wundanyi lowland farms alongside planting trees for timber.
Pixie oranges are highly profitable and can be grown even in arid and semi-arid areas. The demand for the fruit is also high.