Avocado stakeholders have warned producers and exporters to stick to global standards if they are to earn from the high-value fruit following a harvesting suspension that has been in place since October last year.
Okisegere Ojepat, the Chief Executive Officer, Fresh Produce Consortium of Kenya warned those involved in the export of immature avocados that they risked various penalties, including cancellation of their licenses.
Ojepat added, “But even if the market opens, it’s not a guarantee that everything will go away. We must ensure by all means that we guard this market by maintaining the highest quality standards. For those who do not comply, the law will take its course.”
He said that government inspectors are carrying out an assessment to ensure that the country has a proper fruit that is mature, and has the right dry matter content as is required.
“No avocado will be allowed to the export market without attaining the required 24 percent dry matter content,” added Ojepat.“We want to encourage our members to comply with the world global standards that the market requires and to ensure that the dry matter and traceability are maintained in the certification but most importantly they secure their orders and secure proper arrangements.”
Ojepat said the sector players are upbeat about good fruit and high volumes following indicators from the field inspections. The production volumes, he added, are expected to increase by 10-12 percent.
“We are looking forward to a good season following good rains and capacity building exercises that have been offered to farmers during the off-season that we believe has and will enable them to comply with the required standards,” Ojepat said during an Avocado Stakeholders’ Forum in Nairobi.
The forum brought together The United States Agency for International Development-USAID’s Strategic Partnership Program(USPP) and the Fresh Produce Consortium of Kenya to discuss quality standards and compliance for the local and global market to improve farmers’ productivity and livelihoods.
The sector is set to deliberate on the matter in a few days.
Ojepat stressed that the projected volumes are driven by the number of fruits that have been planted in the recent past. In the last 3-5 years, many regions have planted avocados, particularly the North Rift and Western Kenya regions. He noted that in the next three years, the volumes are expected to hit 50 percent.
In early January this year, the Horticulture Crops Directorate (HCDA) deployed officers in all avocado growing areas to undertake a survey to examine the fruit’s quantities and maturity levels before lifting the harvesting suspension.
Over the past 10 years, avocado exports have been restricted to air shipments between November and February, due to insufficient volumes to fill sea containers.
During this restricted period, exceptions may be granted to specific orchards upon request, provided that they undergo a 100 percent inspection conducted by relevant government agencies.
According to HCDA, the decision was informed by the realisation that certain traders exploited the high demand for avocados to ship immature fruits resulting in complaints about the produce not ripening properly and in the end market-denting the reputation of Kenya’s fruits.
Dr. Andrew Edewa, Director of Standards at Trademark Africa implored that standards such as the Sanitary and Phytosanitary(SPS), Environmental Sustainability, and Food-waste Management are the new currencies of export business.
Dr. Edewa noted that 60 percent of Kenya’s produce was being rejected at the export market due to poor documentation.
“For those who do not comply with these standards, they should not even think of exporting to the global market,” he cautioned.
Avocados are expected to become the second most traded major fruit by 2030, after bananas according to the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development and Food and Agricultural Organization Agricultural Outlook 2021-2030.
Dr. George Njenga, Chief of Party at USAID-USPP noted that the benefits of avocado had not been fully felt by smallholder farmers even as the fruit remained “ a fruit of significance.”
“In Kenya, the people most benefiting from this sub-sector are the big players who control the market at the expense of our small-scale farmers in the rural areas who are still poorly organized making capacity building on issues around standards adherence for them challenging,” said Njenga.
He said the five-year program which is implemented by Strathmore University Business School (SBS) and funded by the USAID to the tune of about USD$12 million will be focusing on building resilient and sustainable businesses for social-economic transformation through three main pillars: Agency and Voice of the Private Sector (AVPS), Kenya Small Business Development Centers (Kenya SBDC), and Transformational Resilience Programming (TRP).
The program, which is setting up systems through small and medium enterprises (SMEs) will offer advisory services to the farmers and connect them to the markets, bringing together the growers so that the country can produce enough for the market and help all counties within the arid and semi-arid lands (ASALS) adopt resilient practices in the wake of climate change.
“We are looking at 15 farmer production cooperatives formed in several counties and trained on management of production and value addition to avoiding food wastages,” he said adding that beneficiaries must be 40 percent women. The program also aims to put policies in place and map the various regions for climate and weather advisories.
According to the directorate, Kenya exported avocados to over 152 destinations in 2023. The volumes exported increased by 19.6 percent from 391,507 tonnes in 2022 to 468,438 tonnes in 2023.
The value increased from KES 147.08 billion in 2022 to KE 156.69 Billion in 2023. Exports to the Netherlands was the highest at (27.3%), the United Kingdom (14.3%), France (12.9%), UAE (5.8%), and Germany (5.1%) with China, India, and Kazakhstan serving as emerging markets.
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