Controlled containers boost Kenyan avocado export market

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An 83-year-old multiple-fruit Machakos County farmer Muia Kusenga inspects avocado fruits on July 22, 2016. Controlled atmosphere containers have expanded Kenya's avocado export market. PHOTO BY LABAN ROBERT.

New markets have opened up for Kenyan avocado farmers after the exporters adopted the use of controlled atmosphere (CA) containers to ship out the fruit to Europe, Middle East, among other new consumers.

Transporting avocados to far markets has been a challenge due to its quick ripening besides injury to the skin and the entire fruit at times, causing losses.

But the CA containers can extend the shelf-life of the fruits from less than seven days to six weeks, allowing for movement of consignments from Kenya to Middle East and Europe, which are the main consumers.

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The CA technology has been used to transport avocados from Australia to France, a sea journey taking about six weeks.

In a report by the Maersk, a global logistics company, released this week said the technology has increased the export to these major markets, which are paying thrice for the fruit.

The report said there has been a 34 per cent increase of the export in 2016 against that of 2015.

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Kenya lost its annual Sh120 million market of South Africa after the latter banned the importation of the fruit in 2010, citing infestation of fruit-flies.

Small-scale farmers, who produce 70 per cent of the 115,000 metric tonnes of the fruit annually, have suffered losses due to the limited local and export market.

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The containers are customised to specific temperatures, humidity, as well as air concentration to minimise ripening and physical injury to the fruits due to chilling.

Best results are obtained at about five per cent oxygen and 10 per cent carbon dioxide concentration while temperatures vary between 4.4 degrees Celsius and 13 degrees Celsius. 

But 7.5 degree Celsius has been found to the most appropriate for long distance transportation, according to the Second World Avocado Congress.

Relative humidity is kept at about 90 per cent to 95 per cent to reduce chilling injuries. Ethylene gas, which causes ripening of fruits, is minimised in the containers to prolong the shelf-life of the consignment.