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Kericho tea farmers now warm up to avocados

By Nikko Tanui
Faith Cheruto at her farm in Murang’a County.

Kericho is predominately a tea zone, but a new wave is slowly sweeping across the farms — Hass avocado.

Having tasted the sweetness of avocado farming, more farmers are embracing the venture to increase their earnings.

“I have been a tea farmer for years and I have seen the good and bad times with tea bonuses. Tea farming is no longer profitable and that is why I have decided to begin uprooting the bushes and replace them with avocado. I have warmed up to avocado and I am loving it. It is a solid retirement plan,” says Ms Susan Langat from Belgut constituency, who owns hundreds of avocado trees.

Due to frustrations in the tea sector, she has uprooted hundreds of tea trees on her four acre-farm.

“I earn Sh40, 000 a month from the tea business but after subtracting labour and fertiliser among other costs, I make miserable profita. That is why I went into avocado farming,” Langat says.

More for less

Ms Langat is one of the beneficiaries of a project run by Social Economic Empowerment Women Organisation (SEEWO) which is encouraging members to plant Hass avocados. So far, the organisation has distributed 40,000 seedlings to  members.

Other than the seedlings, the members are also taught how to tend to the trees from seedlings planting, maturity and harvesting.

Having gone through the whole process and tested the lessons on her farm and seen the fruits, Mrs Langat is emerging to be a master avocado grower.

“In my first harvest, I got around 200Kgs of avocados which I sold to individuals and at the local market. I made around Sh60, 000 profit,” she says.

In a bid to reap more, she increased her trees to 100 more avocados last year.

”In the second harvest, I earned around Sh35,000. I sold a piece at Sh15,” she says.

At the moment, she has 220 avocado trees that sit on 0.8 acres of land. For better yields, Mrs Langat is practising organic farming.

“I have a biogas system and I get the slurry from the biogas unit which I use on my avocado trees,” she says.

How idea was conceived

Having seen the potential in avocado, more women in the area are keen on it.

Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Service (Kephis) Managing Director Esther Kimani says a farmer who plants an acre of Hass avocado and tends them properly can make Sh1 million in a season.

“Growers should buy disease-free seedlings from Kephis-licensed nurseries and seek expert advice on managing pests and diseases that affect avocado,” she says. 

Seewo Managing Director Winnie Keter says since the project begun in 2015, 20,000 members have embraced avocado farming.

“I came to learn about the benefits of avocado while on a trip to South Korea, Dubai and France. While on the trip, I discovered there is a huge market for avocados especially Hass Avocado variety,” she says.

On arrival back to the country, Keter presented the idea to SEEWO board and once they approved it, the next stop was wooing State officials to buy into the idea.

“We then approached Kephis MD Kimani who was kind enough and sent their experts to train our  members on growing the fruit. Thereafter, we started the avocado campaign project and formed a farmers cooperative to act as the marketing arm,” explains Mrs Keter. 

Research

They settled on Hass because their research showed that a tree can produce between 500-700 fruits upon maturity.

The local market price per fruit is Sh10 translating to between Sh5,000 and Sh7,000 per tree. It means a farmer with 50 trees (1/2 acre) can make between Sh250,000 and Sh350,000.

The export market

The export market is even more promising.

“From our calculation, 1,000 farmers can earn more than Sh1 billion in foreign exchange inflows from the exportation of the Hass Avocado. With such earnings, families will have improved living standards and educate their children,” says Mrs Keter.

SEEWO has also established a registered avocado nursery which is duly registered with the Horticultural Crops Directorate with a capacity of 100,000 seedlings.

Counties such as Murang’a which started Avocado farming much earlier and are currently exporting their produce. Companies like Kakuzi are exporting more than 5,000 tonnes from their large scale farms, a clear indication that there is a solid market abroad.

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