Kenyan farmers regret ditching their coffee for avocado

Many Kenyan farmers who ditched the coffee farming for avocado have begun second-guessing their decision as their produce for export is being affected by China’s stringent rules.

In 2018, there was a growing trend of farmers being more interested in planting Avocado as opposed to Coffee. This switch became rampant because of the global awareness of avocado’s health benefits and the huge amounts of money these farmers hope to get from exporting to China.

In the first ever Shanghai Import Expo, both countries agreed on a pact that would see to the exportation of over 40 percent of Kenya’s fresh produce to China. Unfortunately, China is instituting tough rules – requiring a farmer to peel and freeze the fruit before export, an inspection of local avocado fruits, farms, laboratories and holding bays for the fruit at the airports. These rules are making it difficult for small-scale farmers.

These new rules add to the 56 steps Kenyan farmers have to take shuttling from one government agency to another in order to get an avocado export clearance.

According to Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Service (Kephis), Managing Director Esther Kimani, “Given the requirements, most small-scale farmers cannot afford to sell their avocados to China and if we do not comply, China will suspend the exports and continuous non-compliance will lead to a total ban.”

For farmers and traders, avocado is a door to Kenya’s economic growth and development which of course translates to riches for them. A single tree can yield more than 1,000 fruits annually, making it suitable for small-scale landowners. Should the fruit be sold at an average of Sh10 ($0.099) each, meaning that a single tree can fetch more than Sh10,000 ($98.73) every season.

Sadly, with these new rules, avocado is a door with many padlocks because a farmer who can barely farm on a large scale has to install machines and coolers for peeling and freezing of the fruit ahead of export. These farmers will have to freeze the peeled fruits to negative 30 degrees Celsius and chill further to negative 18 degrees while on transit to the destination.

There have been concerns regarding farmers’ eagerness to uproot their coffee trees for Avocado because it takes about three years to start producing avocado pear and a further two to reach maturity. If after five years, these farmers do not cash in from the Chinese market they would have lost out on both coffee and avocado.

Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta noted that from July coffee farmers will be able to access payments from a 3 billion shillings ($30 million) cherry advance revolving fund. Under this fund, the farmers get cash upon delivery of their crop to respective factories instead of the norm where they have to wait for months.

A kilogramme of avocado fetches up to Sh2,000 ($20) in China compared to Kenya’s Sh80, while avocado powder in the Asian country could earn up to Sh10,000 per kilo.