Farmers in Kirinyaga County who are beneficiaries of Hass avocado seedlings distributed four years ago by Governor Anne Waiguru’s administration now say their fruit is ready for harvesting.
Those who benefited from the initial programme say their avocado trees have matured and they expect to harvest the first fruits this month.
Some of the beneficiaries, especially those in cooperative societies, have a ready market for the fruit, thus eliminating middlemen.
Through the Wezesha Kirinyaga economic empowerment programme, Governor Waiguru embarked on a massive project that has seen about 500 farmers’ groups get support to undertake various agricultural activities, among them avocado farming.
Besides distributing Hass avocado seedlings, Ms Waiguru also spearheaded the formation of an avocado cooperative society that has now enabled farmers to collectively negotiate for better prices for their crop.
Other farmers’ groups have also been supported to establish nurseries where they propagate the seedlings that they in turn sell to farmers in and outside the county.
Mr Enos Gichanga, the chairman of Kirinyaga Avocado Growers Cooperative Society, said it was formed in 2020 and has been selling avocados to Kakuzi PLC at Sh25 per fruit as opposed to the Sh3-Sh7 that they earlier received from brokers.
“By coming together and forming a cooperative, the county government has supported the farmers with avocado seedlings as well as establishing avocado propagation nurseries. We have therefore overcome the challenge of sourcing quality seedlings,” said Mr Gichanga.
He said that by integrating avocado farming with tea and coffee farming, the farmers have now added value to their farms and have created an extra income stream, thus economically empowering themselves.
Mr Gichanga noted that they are educating tea and coffee farmers to replace other types of trees with avocados as their economic value is higher.
“The avocado tree will give returns through the various cycles of harvesting, hence fetching farmers more money.”
The avocado value chain that was introduced by Governor Waiguru, he said, is helpful to tea and coffee farmers as they are using the same land where they have planted their traditional cash crops.
Beneficial to tea plantations
He added that besides making up for low returns from tea and coffee, the avocado trees are beneficial to tea plantations and hence their great acceptance by farmers.
“One tree can bring in up to Sh20,000 and so a farmer with several trees growing among the tea bushes reaps more from avocados than from tea,” he said.
He thanked the governor for the support, adding that the upcoming avocado aggregation centres that the county has set up will provide a conducive environment for farmers to collect and store their fruits before onward transmission to the market.
Mr James Gitari, who was among the initial beneficiaries of the Wezesha programme, said that he expects to harvest his first fruits this month. He received his seedlings in 2019 and has nurtured them to maturity.
He said that he has great hope in avocado farming because the global demand for the fruit is higher than supply. He urged more farmers, especially young people, to plant avocados.
Ms Tabitha Wabere, a coffee farmer from Gichugu, has integrated avocado farming on her farm. She said the fruit has been paying well and has enabled her to uplift her family’s economic status.
Governor Waiguru said the avocado value chain support programme aims to elevate the county to a leading avocado producer in the region.
“We also want to be the leader in avocado seedlings production where our farmers will be selling quality seedlings to other farmers within and outside our county,” she said.
“When we support farmers to diversify their agricultural activities, we create multiple income streams for them and reduce overreliance on one particular crop.”
Due to rising demand for avocado in the local and export market, she said, avocado farming presents an immense investment opportunity for farmers in the county and that her administration is committed to supporting them to increase production and access to markets.
The county’s current annual avocado production is estimated at 15,000 metric tonnes worth around Sh300 million. With the county government’s interventions, the production is expected to rise to 21,000 metric tonnes, which will fetch around Sh700 million.
The Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organisation (Kalro) says avocado is the leading export fruit in Kenya. The demand for it and the prices in the export and local markets have been on the rise. Higher demand is partly attributed to consumers realising the fruit’s health benefits, as well as more processing activities.
Avocado farming is not only expected to improve household incomes and the county’s economy but also to contribute to the achievement of the food security pillar of the Big Four agenda.