The growing demand for Kenyan avocados in Europe
By Rolex Owino
Across Kenya’s ochre fields, farmers are abandoning coffee and tea cultivation – for avocado cultivation, in a bid to profit from increasing European demand for the crop’s delicacies.
Among them is Simon Kimani, 73, who cultivates five acres (two hectares) of avocado trees.
“Recently when the avocado trade started growing up we thought that it is better to plant avocados, that’s how I started,” he says, pointing to his first trees, planted less than a decade ago.
Avocado toast is becoming a staple of European menus, says Laura Hannoun, a blogger who has listed the top-10 places to order the simple, hip dish , which can set one back – 14 euros ($16).
“The fair price is between 10 and 11 euros,” says the 25-year-old.
In Kenya, smallholder farmers grow avocados and sell them on to exporters. Kimani’s buyer is Bernard Kimutai of Fair Trade Company Limited.
Kimutai has seen a sharp increase in exports of the popular Hass avocado in recent years.
“In 2016 we exported 20 tonnes, in 2017 we did about 40 tonnes,” he says, hoping to double the figure again this year (2018).
Harvesting is a low-tech affair: a broken wooden ladder and an old machete are all it takes for Kimani and his two employees to chop down the hard, green avocados, collected young so they reach Europe ripe.
In this way, Kimani produces around 28,000 avocados per year, and is paid the equivalent of a little over 10 euro cents each.
In European supermarkets, where they are sold alongside others from Chile, Israel and Mexico – they easily fetch 10 times that amount, if not more.
“One hundred per cent of (our) avocados are for export. We try to improve the quality to make sure that what we get from the farmer is 90 % exportable,” says Kimutai, adding that any that do not make the grade are sold on to oil-processing companies.
Health and Wealth
Kenya’s temperate climate is well-suited for avocado cultivation, especially around the high altitude town of Thika, north of Nairobi, where Kimani has his farm.
In its terraced orchard, avocado trees grow alongside banana and coffee trees as part of a well-planned multi-culture that keeps the soil fertile.
But for Kimani, avocado is the crop of choice. “With the coffee there is a lot of work to manage the coffee but with avocados it is easier, to have more money, through less labour,” he says.
Less than three years since planting his first avocado trees, he now takes in two harvests a year. The Kenyan government is also supportive, even providing courses to help farmers learn production new skills, says Kimutai.
“The Kenyan government has encouraged farmers to grow more avocados because of the market.”
Kenya is the world’s sixth largest exporter of avocados – with 3% of the world’s total – and Africa’s biggest, producing 63,000 tonnes last year.
The strong demand from European countries allows companies like Kutaisi’s to export throughout the year.
“Demand is going high, especially in the rich countries where they care more about health, considering that avocados in Kenya are produced organically.”
Renowned as a healthy food, full of vitamins, fibre and trace elements, avocado is an increasing staple of European diets.
Hannoun eats avocado at least once a week, usually on toast, maybe with a poached egg or some pomegranate.
“It fulfils my desire for something tasty, while being healthier than pancakes or burgers,” she says.
Source: African Strategic-Ventures (ASV) & Capitalfm.