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A to Z of sending avocados to China

By George Mbakaya
Hass avocado.

With Kenya having signed a trade deal to export avocados to China, here are requirements you must fulfill to be viable to export this fruit.

Since the signing of the trade agreement for Kenyan farmers to export hass avocados to China, most prospective farmers may be considering switching their current crops to avocado.

This deal will absorb over 40 per cent of Kenya’s avocado produce. However, there are requirements to penetrate the export market.

Quality seeds

The key challenge as a first time avocado farmer is access to quality planting materials. Because you lack knowledge on how to identify the certified seedlings, the unscrupulous middlemen will sell you anything that looks like avocado. Farmers who have fallen for this scam only realise they have been cheated when the plants they expected to start fruiting after three years are stunted and possibly infested by viral diseases.

What should you do in this case? Source your seedlings from certified nurseries. Demand a certification from the Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Services (KEPHIS). Do not buy seedlings from roadside nurseries.

The two popular avocado varieties are the pebbled, purple-black skinned Hass and the green-skinned Fuerte. Hass is the preferred variety for the China market.

Sanitary and phytosanitary requirement

Another requirement your fruit must meet, just like with the European Union Export market, is the sanitary and phytosanitary (an agreement relating to the health of plants, especially with respect to the rules of international trade) requirements for the export of frozen avocado. The fruits should not spread harmful organisms to plants and plant products in China. So take note of the harmful organisms that could prevent your avocados to access the export market like fruit flies, moths and scales. False codling moth is especially difficult to remove effectively through packaging and pre-export inspections.

Orchard management

Export market requires good quality fruits. Quality is a function of many aspects but the most important is the orchard management. Trees should be planted 4 by 6 meters apart. This spacing allows for sufficient light penetration that is crucial for flowering. Proper lighting will also prevent proliferation of pests and diseases.

Water supply is also important because it dictates the shape and size of the fruits. Irrigation of the orchard will ensure uniformity of the fruits. It will ensure that the produced fruits are not too small or to big than the required size. Export market requires that the fruit should have reached a physiological stage, which will ensure a continuation of the ripening process. The standards require a minimum dry matter content of 21% for intact.

Avocado classes

Hass avocados are generally classified into three classes based on quality - Extra Class, Class I and Class II. Avocados should, at the very least, be clean and sound, free from pests, free from damage, free of abnormal external, moisture, have a stalk no longer than 10mm in length, be in a condition to withstand transport and handling.

Pesticide use

Watch out on the amount pesticides you use. Pesticide residues are one of the crucial issues for fruit export market. To avoid health and environmental damage, the importers have set maximum residue levels (MRLs) for pesticides in and on food products. Products containing more pesticides than allowed will be withdrawn from the export market. Reduce the amount of pesticides by applying integrated pest management (IPM) in production. IPM is an agricultural pest control strategy that includes growing practices and chemical management.

Certification

Since food safety is a top priority in all food sectors, you can expect most buyers to request extra guarantees from you in form of certification. The most commonly requested certification for avocado is Global G.A.P. - a pre-farm-gate standard that covers the whole agricultural production process, from before the plant is in the ground to the non-processed product.

The Chinese market has opened a window for Kenyan avocado. Make no mistake to prioritise quantity over quality. The market will only allow good quality fruits to enter the market.   

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