By George Munene
The Horticultural Crops Directorate (HCD) has announced that the 2023 Kenya avocado harvesting season officially opens today, March 24th.
Kenya’s avocado harvesting season, March- October, coincides with peak demand from the international market. The country exported Sh14.48 billion worth of the fruit between January to November 2021, overtaking South Africa as the continent’s leader in avocado production for the lucrative overseas market. With the opening of the gigantic Chinese market in August last year– the country exported Sh7 billion worth of avocados to China between August and October 2022– the good times for avocado farmers are here to stay.
However, due to the chronic drought ravaging most of the country, avocado yields are expected to decline this year.
A memo by the Agriculture and Food Authority (AFA) of Kenya advised farmers to harvest their avocados when mature which is determined by a minimum dry matter standard of 24 per cent. This reduces the fruit’s susceptibility to mesocarp bruising.
Mesocarp bruising is a significant postharvest problem of avocados as it results in cell and tissue damage which reduces the fruit’s keeping quality.
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The agency further advised avocado farmers to avoid using open vehicles in packaging and transport as it affects the overall quality.
Farmers should also be careful when loading avocados as load pressure can exert internal injury which causes them to have a short shelf life.
‘The exact stage of maturity during the growth and development of avocado fruit is difficult to determine because the fruit does not exhibit obvious characteristics that could suggest the optimum state of “readiness for harvest”. It is crucial to note that avocado maturity will not improve after picking, so it is crucial that the fruit reaches the required marketing preference before harvest. Immature avocado fruits have a grassy aftertaste, are watery or rubbery in texture, and lack flavour.’
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HDC has been engaging avocado exporters and Horticultural Produce Marketing Agents (HPMAs) to boost compliance with maturity requirements.
AFA urged all avocado value chain actors to adhere to production and postharvest handling requirements to ensure positive consumer sentiment toward Kenyan avocados. This will ensure Kenya’s avocado industry remains competitive in the global market.
Most of Kenya’s avocado farmers are grown in Murang’a, which leads with 31 percent of total production, Kiambu, Nyeri, Kirinyaga, Embu, Meru, and Kisii counties. Other regions with a growing avocado farming culture fast are Nakuru, Nandi, Bomet, Uasin Gishu, Trans- Nzoia, Bungoma, and Siaya counties. Certain parts of Machakos County can grow avocados (Hass) which require altitudes of between 1000m to 2000m and optimum temperatures of 20 to 24 degrees Celsius.