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Kenya gains fresh access to China avocado market

Sunripe Vertical Agro and Kakuzi PLC have managed to penetrate the China market. [David Gichuru, Standard]

The entry of Kenya into the China avocado market has been termed as a game changer, given the Asian country’s large population. With a population of about 1.45 billion people, if one decides to feed every single Chinese mouth with avocados, then the figures will start making sense.

Kenya is now the first African country to export fresh avocados to China in a move set to further boost economic ties between the two countries. This was after Beijing opened its doors to fresh fruit from 15 Kenyan firms to hit the vast Chinese market. Fresh Kenyan avocado exports to China officially commenced on Tuesday with the flagging off of the first consignment from Nairobi. The ceremony was attended by senior government officials, diplomats and industry executives.

Sunripe Vertical Agro, an exporter of fresh and frozen agricultural products in Kenya and Kakuzi PLC are the companies that have confirmed and so far managed to penetrate the China market. However, of utmost importance is the value this breakthrough will bring to the avocado farmers. Richard Tuwei from Nandi County is one of the farmers who were present to witness the memorable occasion as the shipment left for China.

Tuwei farms both Hass and Fuerte avocados. But for the export market he says the Hass variety is most prefered.

“Months ago we brought avocados here and the prices were low. This was attributed to the war between Russia and Ukraine. But I am glad, with the opening of the Chinese market right now I sell at Sh100 per kilo compared to before where brokers bought from us at Sh2 per fruit,” says Tuwei.

And the numbers look attractive.

“If one tree can give up to 200 kilos, that is Sh20,000 from one tree. What if I have 100? You do the math.”

Crop husbandry

It will take six months from flowering to get to the market. It may take longer when the weather is cold. He says with the right farm management and with correct manuring, farmers are guaranteed production and good prices.

A farmer can harvest twice or thrice in a year. According to Tuwei, this will be an economic turnaround for Nandi county and for the country because more farmers are turning to farming avocados and foresee it overtaking tea and coffee in the nearest future.

Tuwei started growing avocados about four years ago and he got into the export market when Sunripe visited his farm and taught him the ropes. He then increased production from producing two or three tonnes per annum to 18 tonnes. He is part of a cooperative society with groups formed across Nandi and Uasin Gishu counties.

“Next year we will even go higher,” Tuwei says.

He calls on the Government to do more to help farmers adhere to the quality standards of the international market and create policies which will protect farmers from brokers who do not care about quality and standards and therefore ruin the market. If the avocado is not mature, once it is ripened at the shop it will not form well as an avocado that has hardened and matured in the farm.

“What is happening is at times the prices are so high that brokers come and collect the avocado before they mature and that has spoiled our market in the European Union,” says Tuwei.

Initially, China required Kenya to export only frozen avocado, which made it difficult to access the market due to lack of facilities. Only Sunripe managed to export frozen avocado in the year 2019.

The export of fresh avocados to China follows a January signing of two protocols to facilitate bilateral trade, mainly for the exports of avocados and aquatic products. The protocols were inked by Agriculture Cabinet Secretary Peter Munya and Chinese Ambassador to Kenya Zhou Pingjian. This was followed by several visits by the General Administration of Customs of the People’s Republic of China and Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Service (Kephis), to inspect Kenya’s avocados to get the right quality.

David Osiany, Chief Administrative Secretary, Ministry of Industrialisation, says by exporting fresh avocados to China, Kenya’s foreign exchange earnings were set to spike, and the country’s economic vitality would also be unleashed.

Huge potential

“The export of fresh avocados to China is a monumental feat that will boost our economy and benefit key players across the avocado value chain including farmers,” Osiany says.

“This great move affirms our commitment and desire to strengthen our friendship and cooperation that is aimed at enhancing and strengthening our trade and the economic relationship existing between our country Kenya and our wonderful partner China,” he adds.

Zhang Yijun, minister counsellor at the Chinese embassy in Kenya who attended the ceremony, says Kenya’s fresh avocado exports to China have huge potential. He says it only took half a year since the protocol was signed to have more Kenyan products entering China. Currently, Kenya is number six in the world in terms of avocado exports and position one in Africa, according to the Horticultural Crops Directorate (HCD).

Zhang also expressed satisfaction for the Chinese embassy in Nairobi, which has been facilitating the process, and expressed optimism that more avocado growers will join in.

“Kenya is the sixth-largest producer in the world and the first in Africa. China’s demand for avocados is still increasing. Kenya’s main season can make up for the off-season of other countries in South America. Thus, Kenya’s avocados will meet the demand. China welcomes more and more good-quality avocados,” Zhang says

Even as the country maintains this first position which it took two years ago from South Africa, Director, Horticultural Crops Directorate, Benjamin Tito says South Africa is hellbent on reclaiming that position.

“Believe you me, they are not sleeping because they still want to reclaim that position and it is our responsibility jointly as stakeholders to do what it takes to retain it. The government is there to facilitate trade and not put up bottlenecks, however, our key responsibility is to be able to identify markets,” Tito says.

He says the major challenge that Kenya has been having is lack of clean planting materials.

“What we need to look at is sector-wide collaboration to see where we can get clones, because if we still maintain the local varieties that we have without looking at improved clones, then we will not get the highest yields that can competitively give Kenya an advantage over the world market,” says Tito.

Currently Kenya is exporting its avocado to the European Union, the leading importers being the Netherlands, France, and Spain. It is also shining quite well in UAE, Russia, Saudi Arabia, UK, and in Africa it supplies to Egypt. These are still significant markets.

Tito says even as the country thinks of increasing the nurseries, one million trees planted per year is not sufficient to supply the Chinese market.

“And this means that we have to go back to the drawing board if we are to sustainably supply that market consistently with the volumes that are needed,” says Tito.

Sunripe Managing Director Hasit Shah says with the opening of the Chinese market, the country anticipates more vibrancy in the avocado sector. To get into a new market requires a lot of dedication and groundwork. We must up our game to meet all the stringent requirements even when they look irrelevant because that is what the market dictates.

He says it will be too bad to get into a market and a few months later, start getting complaints and discruptions.

“What we have achieved as the business community, the government and the private sector, is unbelievable. China has big cities, the tier-one cities and the populations are phenomenal and that is where our avocados are going to go. In each city, there are five to 11 markets,” says Shah.  

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