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Kenya's avocado farmers eye windfall as exports to China gain momentum Release date: 2022-08-05    Source:Xinhua

Richard Tuwei, a 62-year-old Kenyan father of three, confessed that he was once a passionate maize farmer until a string of losses linked to pest infestation, erratic weather, and market volatility forced him to switch to avocados.

Tuwei, now retired and a proud owner of a seven-acre (about 2.8 hectares) avocado farm in his native Nandi County, northwestern Kenya, said the tropical fruit is already earning him a sustainable income, adding that exports to China have gained steam.

Tuwei, who spoke to Xinhua Tuesday during the flag-off ceremony for the first batch of fresh avocado shipment to China in the central Kenyan county of Kiambu, said the move could herald fortunes to local growers of the tropical fruit.

"(I) am happy to witness the opening of the Chinese market to our avocados and look forward to improved earnings for local growers who previously grappled with exploitative middlemen," he said.

On Tuesday, Kenya commenced shipment of fresh avocados to China, in line with a bilateral agreement signed by the two nations in January, marking a significant milestone in economic and trade relations.

Local firm Sunripe and its Chinese counterpart Greechain facilitated the shipment of fresh avocados to the Asian nation, having received the green light from regulatory agencies charged with certifying quality and hygiene standards.

"The export of fresh avocados to China is a monumental feat that will boost our economy and benefit key players across the avocado value chain including farmers," said David Osiany, the chief administrative secretary of the Ministry of Industrialization, Trade and Enterprise Development.

More than 3 million Kenyan smallholder farmers who grow avocados, including Tuwei, are expected to be major beneficiaries of increased access to the Chinese market for the fruit.

Four years ago, the retired civil servant planted Hass and Fuerte avocado varieties on his seven-acre farm but initially sold the fruit at a throwaway price, due to limited market access.

In addition, Tuwei struggled to find high-yielding, pest and disease-resistant seedlings, leading to depressed harvests until he linked up with local agronomists who exposed him to Hass and Fuerte avocado varieties that perform better and are popular in overseas export destinations.

Tuwei revealed that Chinese inspectors have been making frequent visits to his avocado farm, where they have trained him on the best agronomic practices for the crop. He has also received a four-month training organized by Chinese and Kenyan quality control bodies, to enhance his understanding of quality and safety standards that his avocados should meet before they are shipped overseas.

"The Chinese inspectors and auditors have been encouraging us to grow avocado but ensure it meets quality and safety standards set by regulators to ensure they qualify for export," said Tuwei.

He added that small-scale growers in his backyard have formed a cooperative, to boost the production and marketing of Hass avocados to the promising Chinese market.

Grace Ngungi, a middle-aged female avocado farmer in the central Kenyan county of Kiambu, said that having grown both the Hass and Fuerte varieties in the last five years, she was optimistic the nascent Chinese market will be a game changer.

Ngungi left a white-collar job to venture into avocado farming and has been consistent in her belief that the Chinese market has the potential to overtake the shrinking one in the west.

"(I) am optimistic about the Chinese market and it was a moment of triumph for local farmers to witness the first batch of fresh avocados being shipped to the Asian country," said Ngungi.

She noted that Kenyan smallholder farmers had benefitted from regular interaction with Chinese officials where they learned about best agronomic practices for avocados, how to retain quality, and shield the fruit from attack by pests.

Kimutai Tengecha, a 57-year-old father of four, has planted Hass avocado on his one-acre farm located in Narok County, southwestern Kenya, having switched from maize and wheat farming due to depressed earnings.

According to Tengecha, the Chinese market heralds a windfall for local avocado farmers who are grappling with volatility in the traditional export destinations of Europe, North America, and the Gulf region.

"Our desire as local farmers is for the Chinese avocado market to thrive and in return, our earnings will stabilize to help us educate our children and employ additional workers," said Tengecha.

Kenya is the world's sixth largest exporter of avocados and ranks first in the African continent.

The country has shipped 44.26 million kg of the fruit overseas, earning 6.09 billion shillings (about 51.18 million U.S. dollars) in the first six months of 2022, said Benjamin Tito, the director of the Horticultural Crops Directorate.