KENYA: Bets on avocado to enhance food security

The government has marked avocado and sweet potatoes as two important crops for food security, proper nutrition and trade expansion.

Other than providing essential nutrients required for good health, the two crops are expected to fetch farmers billions of shillings as the government scales up an exportation programme.



This comes as the country fights to stabilise production of the maize staple, following a fall army worm attack as well as maize lethal necrosis disease.

Speaking during a sweet potato and avocado awareness field day organised by the Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate (Kephis) at Sosiot Sports Grounds in Kericho, Agriculture Cabinet Secretary Willy Bett revealed that avocado’s popularity is rising in the international market due to several sought after nutrients.

“The fruit is in great demand internationally, especially the Hass and Fuerte varieties. In 2016, Kenya exported avocados worth Sh5.4 billion representing 38,701.7 tonnes,” he said.

The countries buying avocados from Kenya include:United Arab Emirates, the United Kingdom, Egypt, The Netherlands, France, Saudi Arabia, Belgium, Spain, Qatar, Bahrain, Kuwait, Germany and Hong Kong.

The CS revealed that Kenya is finalising talks with South Africa in a bid to resume the Sh120 million annual avocado export to the country, after a 2010 ban amid quality concerns. There are also plans to expand to emerging markets such as Malaysia, Singapore and South Korea.

Expansion of export markets is expected to double the Sh100 billion that the country already fetches from horticultural exports.

During the event, Social Economic Empowerment Organisation (Seewo), a women group, received 1,000 certified seedlings and sweet potato vines to start them off in the lucrative venture.

The ministry through departments like Kephis and the Horticultural Crop Directorate had earlier trained local farmers to diversify crops beyond tea and maize in order to spread their risks, improve their living standards and participate in the global market.

Demonstrating the importance of avocado as a door to Kenya’s economic growth and development, the experts said that a single tree yields over 1,000 fruits annually making it suitable for small-scale land owners battling with limited space.

“Sold at Sh5, a tree can fetch over Sh 5,000. Production starts from the second year after planting,” said the CS, adding that the Fuerte variety is a good pollinator that is bought by exporters on contract. The Hass variety is more popular in Europe.

Seewo group leader Winny Keter said about 50,000 avocado trees have already been planted whereas hundreds of acres of land owned by willing farmers have been identified.

“We have also set aside a two-acre farm where we will be packaging our produce for export.

“We will also build a women empowerment centre for training on financial and social issues,” said Mrs Keter.

The emerging interest in avocado farming has also attracted local investors, with the construction of a processing plant in Thika near completion.

The CS said that local processors are encouraged because it will save the farmers from incurring the costs that come with exporting.

The farmers were also asked to adopt the early maturing, high-yielding orange fleshed sweet potato that is rich in Vitamin A to enhance food security.

The variety is produced at the Kephis station in central Kenya through tissue culture techniques which ensure quality. The vines are then multiplied in screen houses for sale. Currently, two orange fleshed sweet potato varieties (vitaa and kabode) are in production.

Across the country, the government has made significant investments in horticulture, specifically the production of fruits, flowers, edible flowers, vegetables, nuts and herbs. The sub-sector earns the country approximately Sh100 billion annually.

This has been enhanced by improvement of infrastructure such as roads and technology.

Mr Bett said that though great strides have been made in surmounting crop diseases, the country is not out of the woods yet.

“We urge farmers to practice crop rotation and work closely with extension and Ministry of Agriculture officials to address these issues.”


Source: Daily Nation

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