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Good news for Kenyan avocado farmers and traders as South African export market re-opens

fuerte avocado variety packed

Packed fuerte avocado variety ready for market. Avocado is grown widely in several agro-ecological zones in Kenya mainly by small-scale growers at 85 per cent. Photo: Oyugi Zalon.

It is good news for Kenyan avocado producers and exporters following the re-opened South African export market ending more than 10 years of standoff that began over quality issues.

Kenya had lost the market in 2007 after South Africa claimed that most of the key fruit production areas in the country were infested with fruit fly.

This lead to the ban that has seen the sector lose about Sh2.3bn annually, according to Andrew Edewa, vice chairperson of the Horticulture National Technical Working Group.

Following Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO), Kenya produces an average of 191,000 tonnes of avocados per year, and is ranked second largest producer in Africa after South Africa and seventh globally with 7,500 hectares under cultivation.

Mexico is the largest producer of avocados in the world.

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Inspectors from South Africa have been visiting the county since the ban was put in place to engage Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Service (Kephis) and assess the progress that Kenya had made in regard to curbing the fruit fly pest.

Following the deal, all exporters interested in exporting the fruit to South Africa must be registered and approved by Kephis which will audit their farms and pack houses to confirm compliance with quality benchmarks of Pretoria.

“Kephis, together with Kenya Agricultural Livestock Research Organisation (Kalro) have established pest-free areas to mitigate the effects of pests on horticultural produce as a measure to eliminate the insects,” said Kephis managing director Esther Kimani in a statement.

“Only those exporters approved by Kephis will be assigned special codes that shall enable them proceed to apply for an export permit,” she said.

She added that with the re-opening of the South African market, the phytosanitary regulator expects farmers and exporters to comply with requirements to maintain this key market.

“Kephis has also been spearheading the production and marketing of avocado to other markets as the fruit, particularly the hass variety is preferred in the international market due to its taste, oil content, texture and size,” said Kimani.

Most parts of the country have potential to produce the required volumes, but farmers lack knowledge and information on the variety of fruits suitable for export.

About 70 per cent of avocado is mainly grown in Muranga, Kiambu, Meru, Thika, Taita Hills and Kitale. Although the crop has high potential in Nyanza and Western regions, its cultivation remains unexploited, according to Status of Avocado Production in Kenya report by Lusike Wasilwa, Kalro.

The resumption on exports comes at a time when there is sufficient produce in the market, five months after the ban on avocado export was lifted by the Agriculture and Food Authority (AFA).

The ban was put in place following a shortage last year as a result of drought.

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