Anne Wangechi, an avocado farmer from Murang’a County is earning sh70,000 every harvest from the produce which has been described as a ‘new gold’ for farmers in Kenya after abandoning coffee farming due its labour intensiveness and the berries’ poor market price.
According to a 2018 World Bank report, coffee production in Kenya had declined from 130m tonnes to 40m tonnes annually due to the high cost of production, labour and fluctuating market prices.
For Wangechi, the process to abandon coffee which was a dominant crop in the area was not easy. After getting married in 1980s just after completing her secondary level education, she registered for a secretarial course at a college in Thika which she would finish in two years.
After completing the course, there was no job coming along, this is the time her mother-in-law gave her a piece of plot belonging to the family and which already had coffee and banana plants. She did not like growing coffee which she says was demanding and marketing process was also cumbersome.
“For the two years I tried coffee farming I reaslised it needed much attention at all stages of production besides long and tiresome queues at the factory where we used to sell the berries and sometimes a farmer could be forced to spend a night away trying to sell the crop,” said Wangechi.
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She says the first profit she ever got from coffee was Sh10,000. This to her was too small as compared to production costs. It is at the time she started convincing the mother-in-law to allow her to uproot all the plants and replace them with a more productive crop such as macadamia or avocadoes.
However, this was not easy as the family had depended on coffee as the main source of their livelihood and source of money to educate the children. Eventually, persistence saw her convince the mother and the husband who allowed her to try her luck.
“We first did some online research on macadamia and hass avocado production and realised that the latter could be of more benefit owing to its rich export market and again if well produced. A farmer can start enjoying a harvest of over 2,000 pieces of the fruits per plant in seven years maturity period,” said Wangechi.
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The young couples then, moved to Nairobi to look for a job. Luckily Wacgechi got a secretarial job with a company which was paying her Sh35,000 per month. After saving part of this money for some time, she went back home in 2003, destroyed all the coffee trees and some bananas to pave way for the new crop.
She then spent Sh10,000 to buy hass avocado seedlings from the nearby Kenya Agricultural & Livestock Research Organisation (KALRO) branch and sourced livestock manure from the nearby homes for planting.
She planted over 100 seedlings but a drought which struck shortly after planting left her with 70 trees with some refilling exercise to be done thereafter.
“The survived trees grew and produced abundantly. I remember we harvested about 2,000 pieces of fruits and took to an exporting company which paid Sh280 per carton containing 12 fruits,” said Wangechi.
The farmer expected Sh46,000 but due to post harvesting mishandling a number of fruits were rejected during quality assessment by an export company. She was forced to sell the rejected fruits in the local market at Sh6 each.
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Wangechi has since learned from her mistakes and has improved in reducing post-harvest losses. She harvests about 30,000 fruits per season selling each at Sh11 which can translate to Sh330,000 in a season but due to some challenges during harvesting and transport, some fruits get affected hence the loss.
“One cannot be absolutely perfect. Though I have managed to put some measures to avoid losses, some cannot just be avoided.”
Every single harvest she harvests about 10,000 pieces earning her Sh70,000 selling at Sh11 a fruit to traders who come to the farm to pick the produce for market saving her transport costs.