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Covid-19 shuts export market for Meru avocado farmers

Large scale avocado farmers in Meru and other Upper Eastern counties are counting losses after buyers gave their farms a wide berth over coronavirus restrictions.

Farmers interviewed in Meru yesterday said traders who usually buy the fruit for the export market are nowhere in sight.

The farmers who grow the Hass avocado variety, earn millions of shillings from the high-value fruit. They however said though they have been ready to harvest their crop, there are no buyers.

Gideon Gitonga and Paul Kiruja, two large scale farmers in Meru, said the pandemic has led to restricted movements and the shutdown of major markets internationally.

Maj (Rtd) Gitonga said traders who usually visit his farm from March to buy the fruits; they have not been seen this time round.

Gitonga has planted over 250 avocado trees in Central Imenti. He grows the Hass variety of the fruit. On average, Gitonga said, a single tree yields 1,000 avocados. He sells one avocado for Sh12.

He sells to Fairtrade and Olivado fruit companies who dabble in the export market. Gitonga said April being the peak period for avocado harvesting, by when no trader has showed up in the farms, the result could be untold losses. 

“My avocados are ready for harvesting. They are not over-ripe yet but if we go for much longer without buyers coming, they will rot in the farm,” said Gitonga.

Mr Kiruja’s farm has 40 avocado trees. One tree can produce up to 2,800 avocados. He was looking forward to yet another impressive harvest to feed the export market.

Last year, the farm attracted buyers from all over the country. Kiruja is now staring at massive losses. “I have been selling the best avacados to Meru Greens at Sh10 apiece. They are usually exported to Germany, Dubai and other destinations. Because of closure of the export market, due to coronavirus, we have been hit hard after all the hard work we put in,” he said.

Most large scale farmers in Meru sell their avocados for Sh10 apiece. Fairtrade Enterprises Operations Director Antony Nderitu said the company buys avocados from Meru, Murang’a, Nyeri, Kirinyaga, Nakuru and Machakos which it exports to different European countries.

He said because of the Covid-19, shipping of the fruit had been disrupted, a situation exacerbated by closure of major markets.

“This year will be tricky. We export to various European destinations which include Germany, Holland, and France. But now, few ships are coming to the port; most shops are closed in Europe,” Mr Nderitu stated.

He noted that unlike last year, when the company bought a kilogramme of avacados for Sh75, this year the price could only go to Sh50 a kilogramme or even below. 


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