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Farmers reject tea and coffee as they opt for avocados, bananas

Joel Mokaya tends to his Hass avocado seedlings that will be distributed to farmers at Kisii Agricultural Training Centre. [Sammy Omingo, Standard]

Bananas and avocados are emerging as the main ‘cash’ crops in Kisii and Nyamira counties, as locals now grow them in large scale where tea and coffee thrived.

Nyamira and Kisii enjoy climatic conditions that favour agriculture. The sector employs more than 70 per cent of the workforce; mainly through small-scale production of food crops using non-mechanised techniques.

However, the region has fast had a change from industrial crop to horticultural production, not only for an increase in overall income per capita, but also for the increasing subsistence production for the growing population. However, with the changing climatic conditions and reducing land sizes, farmers have begun to embrace a new kind of farming.

Records in the two counties indicate that the size of land available for farming varied among farmers with 83.3 per cent of the farmers in Kisii and 76.7 per cent of those in Nyamira having less than an acre of farmland.

In the last five years, scenes of farmers cutting down tea and coffee crops have been common in villages. The pressure has been on the farmers to utilise the diminishing land sizes to have maximum production in the agriculture sector.

The region holds a lot of promise in avocado and banana farming with commercialising the two crops gaining momentum. It is becoming possible for farmers to set up large scale farming for the two lucrative crops.

Cyrus Nyakundi, an agronomist and avocado farmer in the county, says all is not lost.

“It is not a secret anymore that we need to fully actualise modern farming to tap into the new openings in the agricultural sector,” says Nyakundi.

“The diminishing land sizes in the region is a wake-up call that we need to stop land fragmentation and subdivisions. We need to use available land in an appropriate manner if indeed we intend to have enough raw materials for the launch of the avocado and banana factories,” he adds.

Nyakundi has planted more than 300 well-tended Hass avocado trees on his two acres in Mosocho, Kitutu Central. With proper management, he opines that a single Hass avocado tree yields 700kg per season.

Jeremiah Mbaka inspects his Hass avocado variety at his Magenche farm Kisii County on 8/12/2020. Mbaka has over 500 avocado tress. [Sammy Omingo,Standard]

Farming of the two crops has become lucrative to an extent that some farmers from the region have been moving to Trans Mara West and East in the neighbouring Narok County where one can access expansive land for large scale farming.

Dorice Omwocha, the principal at Kisii Agricultural Training College (ATC), says the uptake of grafted avocado has spiked to almost 90 per cent from 40 per cent in 2013.

“Farmers are keen on banana and avocado farming. We have trained more than 150,000 farmers on horticulture crop production. There is a paradigm shift on farming activities in this region,” Ms Omwocha says.

She adds: “Most farmers in the region are proactive. They need farming that can give them money and avoid making losses. The volcanic soils and favourable climate are advantageous and the reason farmers could be ready to embrace new farming techniques.”

Joel Nyakundi, a stakeholder in grafting of Hass avocados and selling of Tissue Culture Bananas at ATC, says he has supplied more than 30,000 avocado and 25,000 banana seedlings this year alone.

“We make a follow-up on each of the farmers who buy seedlings from our nursery. We connect them to clients. The demand is high. We have planted more than 500,000 avocado seedlings in the last four years,” says Nyakundi.

He says Migori, Kisii and Nyamira county governments have also been buying seedlings from his nursery though the numbers have gone down due to the Covid-19 effects.

According to the International Society for Horticultural Science, Kisii is a leading banana producing region in Kenya with an average farmer production of 17 tonnes per hectare, while the national farmer’s average production is 12 tonnes per hectare.

Kisii County Government through Governor James Ongwae had started an initiative of encouraging residents to embrace farming of Hass avocados as a way of eradicating poverty as well as boosting their health.

The county has also constructed a banana factory that awaits equipping. This is in addition to a completed avocado factory that was completed a year ago.

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