Growing up, Shiro Ndirangu wanted to be a pilot, but as fate would have it, she ended up studying bachelor of commerce in administration and finance at Strathmore University.
“I was fascinated by pilots and wanted to be one. I thought it was the only way I could see the world. I was to learn later that I did not need to fly the plane to see the world,” Shiro says.
During her university years, she spent her weekends and holidays in the farm helping her parents to pick and pack fruits and vegetables for sale. At the time, she was unsure whether to follow the agribusiness path like her parents.
“I graduated from the University in 2008 and worked in one of the local banks for about seven years. However, the desire to be back in the farms became apparent, so I quit my job and pursued my passion. I have never looked back,” she narrates.
Shiro is the managing director of Afrex Gold Limited, a company that packages and exports fruits and vegetables with a main focus on avocado. She says being the team leader gives her satisfaction and has enabled her to explore her full potential in management.
Her role as the MD involves guiding the team to meet the company objectives. She also engages different stakeholders in the industry to ensure the business achieves its goals.
“I’m currently spearheading a project in land restoration that allows us to work with small scale farmers to improve the quality of seedling they use in their farms for better yields, while planting exotic trees that are beneficial to their ecological zones,” she says.
The programme targets to plant over 80,000 avocado and exotic trees in an effort to give back to the community while fighting the threat of climate change. “With the gains made over the last seven years in the sector, meeting this aggressive goal will certainly be the highlight of my career,” she adds.
The company has been in the horticulture industry in various capacities since the late 1990s. It started by working with farmers in getting supplies for the local market and eventually identified some opportunities driven by global demand for fresh produce in East Africa.
“Our portfolio includes avocado, mangoes, bananas and pineapple,” she notes. “We do however focus more on avocado from small holder farmers throughout the country.
”From her experience, she notes that the horticulture sector has developed significantly over the last few years in various aspects, which include availability of more information that allow farmers to produce better quality and higher yielding crops.
“There are also a lot of regulations and standards that have come into play, thereby improving industry competitiveness globally,” Shiro says.
The procedure begins with identifying, contracting and training farmers, who will then be assisted to acquire farm inputs and grow the avocado trees using standard practices.
Once mature, the fruits are harvested, delivered by the farmers to the packing facility and marketed internationally.
Part of the process is ensuring that the products meet the global standards. The avocado packaging facility has the capacity to process 1,000 tonnes of avocado monthly. The crop is, however, seasonal and also subjected to forces of demand and supply.
“However, there is an expansion into non-traditional growing areas in Kenya and we are likely to have commercial production all year round in the coming years from different ecological zones. This will give Kenya a massive advantage in international markets,” the MD offers.
The company prefers Hass and Fuerte varieties while the indigenous ‘Jumbo’ type is sold to specific markets. Prices vary depending on the variety, size, quality, demand, supply and location. Prices may, therefore, range from Sh35 to Sh110 per a kilo.
“We work directly with farmers to ensure that they get value for their produce through fair pricing ,” Shiro says.She reveals that the avocado value chain has created massive direct jobs with hundreds of people employed in nurseries, farms, packaging facilities and as logistics providers.