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Finally, the long-awaited avocado bonanza arrives

Workers loading avocados into a lorry at Keumbu Market in Kisii County. [Sammy Omingo, Standard]

If there were to be a list of the three things that bother Kenyans today, the crazy prices of avocados would feature without a doubt.

Of late, these prices have hit the roof. An acute shortage in some markets has raised the standard of this fruit to an almost luxurious product.

A few years before avocado was as glorified as a super fruit, the price for a reasonable size of this ‘green gold’ was as low as Sh10 or at most Sh30 from the local vendor.

To some villagers, it was used to feed animals with farm gate prices being as low as Sh5 per piece. But now, the price of a fruit is averaging Sh60.

Currently, an avocado that costs Sh20 or Sh30 is not even attractive to the eye. While the prices of avocados have been steadily rising even in the international markets, the recent absence of the fruit has been prompted by the Directorate of Horticulture’s decision to restrict exports.

Fresh Produce Consortium of Kenya Chief Executive Okisegere Ojepat attributed the high prices of avocados in the local market to the restricted export of the fruit, leading to controlled harvesting.

Due to restriction, limited avocados are being exported until later next month as farmers are required to only sell mature fruits. “For that reason, there is little in the market,” said Ojepat.

He explained that the supply in the local market is dependent on international supply as the fruits Kenyans buy are mostly those which do not meet international export standards.

Some of them are small in size, have scratches or bruises. “For that reason, you can be assured if there is not much export, the domestic market feels the heat,” he said. The Jumbo variety is what is mostly sold in the local market. However, this is the only variety now with an open market.

While announcing the decision to restrict export of avocados last month, the Director, Horticultural Crops Directorate, Benjamin Tito, said this would ensure farmers do not export immature fruits. “We are shipping too much but what (the money) we get in return is too little,” said Tito at a press conference.

He said harvesting and exporting of immature avocados has negatively affected the image of the country in overseas markets, in addition to interfering with the cropping cycle of the trees - hence reducing the projected volumes.

According to the Fresh Produce Exporters Association of Kenya, avocado is the topmost fruit being shipped out of the country.

Moses Nyangau tends to his avocados in Rikenye village, Nyamira County. December 2020. [Sammy Omingo, Standard]

According to the association’s 2021 report, shipment out of the country has been increasing: rising from 3,406 in 2017, 5,833 in 2018, 8,525 in 2019 to 9,666 in 2020. In terms of volume, the figure has been going up from 38.7 million in 2017 to 71.7 million in 2020.

Data from the Horticultural Crops Directorate paints the same picture as shipment in kilogrammes increased between January and July last year to 67.1 million kilos. The period between June and July 2021, however, saw a drop to 9.8 million and 4.6 million kilos respectively, from the double-digit in May of 10.9 million kilos.

Currently, fruits constitute 34 per cent of shipments of fresh produce from Kenya, with avocado having the lion’s share.

“The Kenyan avocado recorded 9,990 shipments in 2020, shipping to 57 destinations from 35 in 2017,” reads the Fresh Produce Logistics 2021 report by the Fresh Produce Exporters Association of Kenya.

The report names avocado as among the fruits that have demonstrated consistent growth over the last five years, with others being mango, passion fruit, raspberries and pineapples.

“On avocados and nuts, Kenya has only exploited 38 per cent of its potential, which means there is still room to grow,” it adds.

The US and Pacific are some of the areas that have the potential to buy Kenya’s avocados.

Avocado Society of Kenya Chief Executive Ernest Muthomi said globalisation had increased demand for the fruit. The universality of the fruit and its use as a spread for bread or smoothie also plays a key role.

“This craze is international,” he said. “And the growing of avocados in Kenya is fueled by this – the international demand. That is why you hear some funny stories of some few Kenyans exporting immature avocados.” He said while Kenyans are also eating avocados just like anyone else in the world, the international prices as stated seem more attractive to a local farmers and exporters, hence the preference for exports.

Prices in the last three years as been a fruit go for Sh25 at the beginning. “Now we are talking about Sh40 or Sh45 for a big size fruit,” he said. The average price per box for export is Sh400 when you get it directly from the farmer.

Pressure on local prices will continue, owing to huge demand globally. It might take 50 years for global demand to be met since there are market openings in India and China.

“Some of it (shortage) is being fueled by the processing of local avocado into other products. Like some are using avocado to process oil,” he said.

As more factories are set up with international demand rising, scarcity is likely to continue unless production goes up.

“Avocados are going to be expensive,” he said. “But thank God people are planting them in areas where they have not been growing before, like Uasin Gishu, Trans Nzoia and Bomet.”