A pickup truck is parked at Longisa trading centre in Bomet County and farmers line up to buy avocado seedlings from a trader in the vehicle.
Each seedling goes for Sh150.
Philip Koech, a resident of Saoset village, is among those who have bought the seedlings without questioning their source, leave alone attempting to confirm if indeed it is the Hass avocado variety that he needs.
“I have parted with Sh1,500 for 10 seedlings. My neighbour who planted three years ago recently earned a lot of money from selling the produce to a cooperative society and I have a lot of catching up to do,” he says.
The adoption of the Hass variety in the South Rift counties of Bomet, Kericho, Narok and Nakuru has picked up in the last two years, with an insatiable demand for the highly nutritious fruits in the local and export market.
But there is a downside: Unscrupulous traders are making a killing, selling uncertified Hass avocado seedlings to unsuspecting farmers.
The vendors operate during open-market days at Mulot, Kapkwen, Kembu, Chemaner, Tegat, Merigi, Silibwet, Kapkoros, Chebole, Sotik, Kapkatet, Sogoo, Kiptagich and Olenguruene trading centres.
Many farmers have had to uproot the crops after discovering three years too late that they planted the wrong variety of seedlings bought from hawkers and uncertified nurseries.
Few fruit nurseries in the region are certified by the Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Services (Kephis) and the Horticultural Crops Directorate (HCD) as sources of assured seedlings as required by regulations from the State department of Agriculture.
Certification by government institutions is preceded by various levels of inspections to ensure that the set guidelines in nursery preparation, planting, propagation and grafting of seedlings are observed to curb diseases and pests besides ensuring they are high-yielding varieties.
Benard Mutai, an agronomist with the Kenya Red Cross Society, told Nation.Africa that many farmers had incurred huge losses as a result of sourcing seedlings from uncertified nurseries and especially hawkers taking advantage of residents’ ignorance.
“Before buying seedlings, it is important to verify the source and whether it has the requisite certification from relevant government agencies,” My Mutai said.
“Apart from stunted growth and attacks by pests and diseases, seedlings from non-certified nurseries have poor yields.”
Attractive market prices have seen farmers organise themselves under cooperative societies to edge out brokers, who buy the fruits for as little as Sh2 each.
Some 500 members of the Berur Cooperative Society in Bomet County, for example, have signed a contract with Biofarms Ltd, an exporter purchasing a kilogramme of the produce for Sh90.
Kembu and Chemaner wards in Bomet East constituency lead in avocado farming in the region, with farmers discarding other commercial crops in favour of the “green gold”.
Farmers in the two wards earned Sh28 million in the last harvest season selling the produce through the society.
“We are seeking to register 6,000 farmers in the cooperative society to ramp up production for the export market,” said Festus Ronoh, chairman of the society.
Mr Ronoh said the society will set up a nursery to produce 50,000 Hass avocado seedlings yearly in a bid to satisfy the high demand from farmers in the region for quality seedlings.
Biofarms Managing Director Daniel Nzyuko said the company was working closely with the devolved governments to ensure farmers are supplied with clean and certified avocado seedlings.
“Apart from the technical support to farmers, we are working with counties to ensure that agricultural extension officers provide farmers with best agronomic practices to raise production of the fruits,” he said.
Bomet Governor Hillary Barchok said the county is providing farmers with certified Hass avocado seedlings at a subsidised price of Sh60 each, compared with Sh200 from private tree nurseries.
“A total of 95,421 Hass avocado seedlings have been supplied to farmers in the county, with 4,240 hectares under the crop and a target to raise it to 10,000 hectares in the next two years,” Dr Barchok said.
Industrialization, Trade and Enterprise Development Cabinet Secretary Betty Maina said trade deals clinched between Kenya and the United Kingdom against the backdrop of Brexit provided untapped opportunities for avocado exports, providing opportunities for farmers to engage in production on a commercial scale.
“A lot of our agricultural produce have an opportunity to go into the UK market thus the need for farmers to adopt modern techniques to increase production and raise export volumes,” she said.
On December 8, 2020, Kenya signed an Economic Partnership Agreement with the UK following months of negotiations. The operational tools of the deal came into force on January 1, 2021. Britain exited the European Union on December 31, 2020.
“Kenya is the seventh-largest producer of avocados in the world and we should take advantage to produce more for the export market to earn the country foreign exchange and reap profits from the investment,” Ms Maina said.
The Netherlands is a leading export market for avocado produced in Kenya, with Spain, Russia, Belgium and China as alternative markets.