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Farmers face uphill task to meet avocado pre-export rules

Small-scale avocado farmers face a daunting task to fulfil stringent conditions external markets demand before any export.

Major export markets – China, Mauritius, Europe, South Africa (SA), Russia, and United Arab Emirates (UAE) – have issued strict rules which local farmers must adhere to before shipping out the product.

Farmers are familiar with phytosanitary conditions from the EU as the latter imports nearly all avocados. Agriculture and Food Authority interim director general Anthony Muriithi says that EU imports more than half of avocados from Kenya.

“Holland is the leading importer at 22 per cent, UK at 17 per cent and France curves 16 per cent. UAE and Saudi Arabia import 10 per cent and six per cent respectively while Russia imported four per cent of the local avocados in 2018,” said Muriithi.

Key concerns by all the export destinations is pest control. Avocado import giants demand use of Integrated Pest Management tactics.

Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Service (Kephis) managing director Esther Kimani said even though there is high demand of avocados in the global market, farmers need to uphold good farming principles in order to meet market requirements.

“The export market wants local farmers to strictly follow phytosanitary and safety conditions, for example, taming pests and diseases and ensuring less human contamination. As a government agency, we are determined to assist the local farmers adhere to the Good Agricultural Practices (Gaps) so that they can secure a substantial market share,” said Kimani at her Karen office.

Mauritius and China, for instance, want the Kenyan government to establish 100 per cent free pest orchards by putting in place traps to tame fruits flies and moths, among other pests. Further, the two countries are discouraging export of immature fruits.

“To create awareness, we are encouraging farmers to form community based organisations or cooperative societies to regulate themselves while at the same time implementing global market specifications and enhancing their lobbying strategy,” says Kimani.

In 2018, SA reopened its Sh5.4 billion avocado market to Kenya’s exports, ending more than 10 years of standoff that began over quality concerns.  Kenya lost the SA market in 2007 after the latter claimed avocado being exported from Kenya had been attacked by fruit fly, a pest that was said to have originated from Sri Lanka.

In the current scenario, SA wants Kenya to use systems approaches such as field and production, pre-harvest, post-harvest, inspection and certification and shipping and distribution measures.

“Growers will be required to monitor the trees with a view to removing rotten fruits,” she added. Russia and UAE are less strict compared to China, EU, Mauritius and SA, although they have cautioned that they will only be comfortable with Kenyan avocados if they are fully mature.

Last month China signed a deal with Kenya that will see local farmers export their popular Hass avocados to the Asian country.  It is projected that the Chinese market will absorb more than 40 per cent of Kenya’s avocado produce at its peak. However, China had set stern pre-export conditions.

China wanted Kenyan farmers and traders to freeze the fruits to negative 30 degree Celsius after peeling off the skin and chill further to negative 18 degrees while on transit.

This would have required farmers to invest in expensive peeling equipment and cold rooms.

Last week, however, after negotiations with the Ministry of Agriculture, China relaxed the conditions and allowed avocados to be exported in raw form.

“We have agreed that avocado shall be exported in raw form because many farmers cannot afford to buy machines for freezing” said Agriculture Cabinet secretary Mwangi Kiunjuri.

Muriithi said avocado is the leading export fruit in Kenya after bananas, mangoes and pineapples. In 2018, the earnings from avocado exports hit Sh10.8 billion, up from Sh7.3 billion registered in 2017.

In 2016, Kenya exported 38,702 tonnes of avocados worth Sh5.4 billion. Kenya is ranked third worldwide with a 15 per cent share of the summer EU market behind Peru and SA.

Muriithi said there has been a major shift in avocado production, with non-traditional counties establishing more orchards, especially in the Rift Valley and Western regions.

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