Rampant theft of avocados - touted as the new 'green gold' - has been on the rise in Murang'a County.
This has forced farmers in the county, which is the leading producer of the fruit in the country, to beef up security.
In Makuyu and Gatanga sub-counties, farmers with more than two acres have resorted to erect electric fences and deploy security guards to keep off thieves who sneak into their farms at night to steal the produce, which is currently trading at between Sh10 and Sh15 per fruit depending on the size.
Mzee John Wainaina, a farmer in Maragua constituency, reveals he has been forced to introduce Masaai guards after he lost avocado worth an estimated Sh15,000 in a single night after tens of youths invaded his farm.
He says the threat has been on the rise after leading producer, Kakuzi PLC, tightened security and installed electric fences on its expansive farm to thwart intruders.
“After the Kakuzi installed an electric fence around the farm, the gangs turned to the small-scale holders, forcing us to beef up our security,” adds Wainaina.
Nancy Nyawira, a resident in Muruka, says she has invested in fencing her farm to keep off the avocado thieves, and to protect other crops.
Avocado prices, she says, shot up after tens of processors flooded Murang’a to purchase the commodity, with youth using motorcycles to transport the produce to their agents.
Hired by cartels
“Stealing of the avocados has become the normal in Kandara forcing farmers to secure their farms. Our sons guard the avocado trees to prevent the gangs from gaining access, especially after midnight,” notes Nyawira.
Since China granted Kenya access to its market, the issue of avocado theft has become so serious it has caught the attention of the county administration.
In July, Murang’a County Assembly met with stakeholders in the business to deliberate on policies to weed out rogues in the sector. As part of the deterrent measures, they debated the The Avocado Bill 2022, which sets out a penalty of Sh100,000 or six months in jail for those who will be found harvesting immature avocados.
The Avocado Bill 2022, according to then Assembly speaker Nduati Kariuki, once assented into law will end the challenges the farmers have been going through.
Murang’a County is the leading producer of avocado in the country and the second in Africa after South Africa.
Many of the youth suspected to be stealing the avocados are believed to be associated with rogue agents, who then deliver them to processors.
In the past three months, areas in Kandara, Gatanga and Makuyu have been in the limelight following the theft of the avocado, owing to the ever-increased demand.
Murang’a County Avocado Farmers Union chairman John Mwaniki says following the initiatives taken by farmers at the village level, theft has dropped by 40 per cent.
Mr Mwaniki accused police of not supporting farmers in fighting the menace, forcing them to take personal initiatives.
Elderly farmers, he says, are the most affected.
“The gangs are facilitated by merchants contracted by the processors. This menace will end once the county government and the police work together,” adds Mwaniki.
Muranga Governor Irungu Kang’ata says his administration will work with the farmers' groups to ensure their investment is protected.
“The county will work with all stakeholders to safeguard the interest of the farmers and support the value chain,” said Kangata during his swearing ceremony.
Murang’a County Commissioner Karuku Ngumo says they have increased police patrols in affected areas.
“There is a need for the farmers to remain united and report threats to the police for action. There are chiefs in the villages who have played a crucial part in maintaining law and order thus theft cases have reduced,” said Mr Ngumo.