Avocado farming has become a big-league agro-enterprise with various market forces including border control, climate and global appetite for avocado favouring Kenyan producers. The Hass avocado, a premium product in the Middle East and Europe has especially gained popularity in the ready-to-eat segment, with consumer appetite changing gradually from the green-skinned varieties to the pebbled, purple-black skin Hass.
The nutrient-packed fruit, has also conquered an edge in the processing section, with a segment of the market using it in cosmetics. It is however in the fresh foods market, including popular hypermarkets that the medium-sized fruits, mostly of the Guatemalan origin, have earned an indisputable prized place.
Investors planning to make millions from the trade must clearly target the specific market segment if they want to reap the full benefits of avocado-production. The export market doesn’t start with buying the seedlings for planting. Fresh products export needs a long term plan of venturing into one of the most stringent markets ever, more so for those targeting the EU food market, which is strictest in the world.
Aspiring investors need to start by researching on the standards that have been set for Kenyan exporters. Some of those requirements; like the fruit size, uniformity and recommended dry matter take refined production skills. Others like shape will require fundamental strategies like irrigation which need to be considered at the inception and not later. The other key requirement in avocado export products is the maximum residue level of chemicals in the cholesterol free fruits. Organically produced fruits fetch a premium price while those that don’t meet the stringent condition are blocked from the market. This has necessitated many avocado-for-export farmers to put in place integrated pest-management measures that reduce the reliance on synthetic chemicals for pest and disease management.
The export market requires that the farmers be certified before their product can find their way into the export shed. This is however fairly easy with proper planning and right business linkages. Thousands of farmers especially in Embu, Murang’a, Meru and Kisii have lived off the avocado export business for more than a decade.
While many factors come into play in a successful fresh produce export business, the kind and quality of linkages and partnerships formed is probably the most critical of all. For entrepreneurs intending to export directly to the international markets to succeed, one will need among others a solid financial partner, a reliable logistics company, and an experienced body of staff to ensure compliance with several standards. There are various government bodies including Kenya Plant health Inspectorate Service and Exports Promotion Council that have been institutionalised to help entrepreneurs crack the export business. Fresh market export consultants can also help novice investors.
For majority of the farmers though, direct export may be elusive. It is however possible to have a share of the export market by forming an export company as a group or signing into contract farming for established export companies. The latter is easier to implement since the export companies support small-scale farmers with necessary production skills and help them manage the whole production process from establishment to sorting and grading.
The quality of partnerships forged for the small holder export farmer is however as critical as that of the direct exporters. It is therefore critical for the farmers to be on the lookout and fall into the traps of the mushrooming briefcase exporters who are more likely to cash in on the rush of avocado farming. The farmers need to appreciate that the big business in avocado farming, more so the Hass and Fuete varieties is not in the local market as the current high prices are only out of a seasonal shortage which will soon even out. The big business is in the export niche. For small scale farmers, the best place to start is therefore not in buying the seedlings but vetting the export company you need to partner with, including verifying their registration at Horticultural Crops Directorate (HCD) as exporters.