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    By George Munene

    The Horticultural Crops Directorate (HCD) has reviewed the minimum avocado dry matter percentage (DM%) post-harvest to 24 per cent for Hass and Fuerte avocadoes meant for export. 

    This is in lieu of the numerous complaints received on the quality of avocados imported to the European Union and the United Arab Emirates.

    “We are looking to safeguard these critical markets, improve fruit quality aspects in line with global market requirements and safeguard Kenya’s competitiveness in the global arena. With this in mind, we would urge all avocado value chain actors to comply with this directive,” read part of a statement from the HCD.

    Through the Agriculture and Food Authority of Kenya, farmers were also advised to adhere to Harvest and Post-Harvesting handling that conforms to Good Handling Practices.

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    Measuring avocado dry matter content is a precise way of detecting maturity that ensures only mature fruits are picked and that their flavour profile is fully developed. 

    Dry matter percentage is determined by maturity at harvest and varies with region, season, variety, and consumer taste. 

    Last year, the agriculture ministry briefly barred avocado exports due to the harvesting and export of immature fruits. This has had a negative impact on the image of the country in overseas markets as well as interfering with the cropping cycle of trees which reduces projected volumes in subsequent harvests.

    Related News: Global avocado demand projected to double by 2024.

    In a consumer research study on the effects of dry matter percentage (DM%), the acceptance of the quality of avocados declined from approximately 95% to 70% if the DM was below 23% and up to 70% of consumers would choose 26% DM avocados over 22% DM avocados.

    Avocado remains Kenya’s main fruit export. 85 million kilograms of avocados were shipped from the country in 2021 netting Sh14.4 billion. The leading destinations for Kenya's avocado were the UK, UAE, Saudi Arabia, Holland, and France. 

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    weighing scale3

    By George Munene

    “Brokers tampering with weighing scales has always been an unfortunate part of the farming game in Kenya, however, as the cost of living has risen the degree to which this vice has proliferated in recent years is disconcerting; nowadays you will be hard-pressed to find an honest broker,” begins my conversation with an onion middleman in one of Nairobi's major markets. 

    This greed bug has now been transmitted to large agricultural food suppliers, exporters, hawkers, and even farmers themselves, who are all involved in a deathly dance on the graves of countless farming dreams.

    “If I'm buying onions at the farmgate for Sh40 a kilo I’ll be selling them at a wholesale price of Sh60/55. Ideally, Sh5 covers transport costs, and another five shillings go into paying taxes and other incidental costs. Depending on supply chain management I'll pocket ten to five shillings for every kilogram of onions that is successfully delivered to market,” he explains.

    Right now though, many brokers will buy an agricultural good at Sh85 and sell it for Sh75. Logically, this means they are either dumbfoundingly efficient or are working for the farmer; incurring all the costs and risks in ferrying crops to markets without any pay. 

    However, if you have had occasion to interact with any Kenyan broker your pockets will have left with the distinct impression that altruism is not their thing.   

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    “I have been a middleman for agricultural commodities for over a decade and can authoritatively tell you it is unsustainable to operate under such tight margins; ten shillings cannot cover all your expenses and get you paid.”

    So how do you make more money than you ought to while making no money at all?

    By tampering with weighing scales, brokers make one tonne of tomatoes bought at the farmgate become 900kg. In markets, 45kgs bought by a mama mboga later becomes 40kg -- ”it has become a business operated on theft”. 

    By buying and selling agricommodities at artificial below market prices these unscrupulous middlemen are pushing out genuine brokers and distorting markets, making prices impossible to decipher. As one trader put it, “Truthfully, no one is sure of the exact value of most of our food at any one time.”

    Farmers are making losses they cannot account for leading to many becoming disenchanted with and abandoning agriculture, a situation that could have disastrous consequences for Kenyan agriculture.

    With the sector employing 70 per cent of Kenya's rural population and 53 per cent of the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) directly or indirectly linked to the sector, it would not be hyperbolic to say that the country’s economy runs on the backs of farmers.   

    “Most brokers insist on using their own weighing scales, and many farmers have caught on to the fact that these scales give false readings as well as other sly tricks that lower the actual weights. 

    However, if you insist on weighing your tomatoes with your own weighing scale they will argue that they too cannot trust you. Some go as far as insisting you show them a certificate of approval of weighing and measuring from the Department of Weights & Measures, which most farmers don't even know exists. This leaves farmers with limited alternatives,” explained Paul, a tomato farmer in Giaki, Meru County.

    He tells of having seen farmer friends have bumper harvests, sell their crops at what they thought were fair prices, and still fail to break even. 

    Farmers able to overcome the barriers of entry and sell directly to consumers enter a warped market that is foggy to navigate unless they too are willing to play the game of tilted scales.

    Unfortunately, not all farmers are innocent victims as some have resorted to similarly corrupt underhand tactics that are killing the very industry that feeds them. 

    “I have bought onions from farmers I thought I had an amicable working relationship with only to find bulbs that were to have been dried for two weeks had actually been harvested four days prior. This meant incurring losses as over 15 per cent of the initial weight is lost in evaporated water during curing and some onions rotted away,” recounts an agri broker.

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    This is a reason proffered by Kenyan traders for sourcing Tanzanian onions; “No one’s saying farmers in neighboring countries are free of corruption…let's just say, it is not as prevalent.”  

    This highlights the moral morass present in other economic sectors of the country and will take more than just properly calibrated weights or properly dried onions to cure.

    Agricultural corruption extends to large-scale food suppliers and exporters. 

    Farmers will have half of their a shipping container woth of avocadoes meant for export rejected for not meeting the required phytosanitary standards, only when they are returned to them they will look nothing like theirs. According to exporting farmers on the Markiti Price Watch KE Facebook page, unless you have an inside man it is near impossible to realise the full value of your produce.  

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    Coffee farmer

    By George Munene

    The average coffee price for a 60-kilogram bag of coffee has grown by 83 per cent from Sh 21,395 in 2019 to Sh39,093 in 2021.

    “This clearly shows that the coffee boom is coming back, with the new reforms within the sub-sector we are promising better prices that will be sustained and are urging farmers who had dropped coffee farming to take it back up,” said Agriculture CS Peter Munya.

    This has been reflected in farmers' earnings with several societies paying out over Sh100 per kilogram of cherry in the coffee year 2020-2021. The national coffee payment average has risen by 78 per cent from Sh45 per kilogram in 2016-2017 to Sh80 in 2020-2021.

    According to the agriculture ministry head, there is little risk of declining prices as Kenya reestablishes itself in the world market and its reputation internationally grows.

    He was speaking during the launch of the Coffee Stabilisation Framework Report which seeks to identify interventions and risk mitigation measures that will ensure smallholder farmers have stable incomes. 

    It highlighted inadequate coffee extension services, high costs of production, and poor quality planning materials as the major contributors to volatile and unfavorable coffee prices. 

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    The report was authored by a technical team constituted in August 2021 by the agriculture cabinet secretary and forms part of a wider reform process of the coffee sector initiated by the government in 2016. 

    At just 36.9 tonnes in the growing period 2019-2020, Kenya currently produces less coffee than it did pre-independence in 1963 when it was the country’s leading foreign exchange earner.

    However, ongoing reforms within the coffee industry are already bearing fruit with coffee industry export earnings improving by 33 percent, from Sh18.73 billion in 2013-2014 to Sh27.7 billion in 2020 to 2021.

    To turn around the coffee sub-sector, the Kenyan government has instituted reforms such as setting up the Sh2.7 billion Cherry Revolving Fund which disburses a loan that is 40 per cent of the worth of the cherry you deliver at just three per cent interest rate. This has helped improve liquidity to farmers enabling them access basic commodities such farm inputs as they await payment on their delivered cherry.

    The fund has thus far benefited 15,703 farmers from 16 counties with continued sensitization hoping to reach even more farmers.

    Establishment of the Sh1 billion input subsidy program has also helped over 59,000 registered farmers who pay 40 per cent less for farm inputs than the market price. This delivers the fertilisers, pesticides, at the factory level with the ministry urging more farmers to tap into the program individually or through their cooperative societies.

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    The ministry was also quick to reassure farmers that the regulations within the coffee sub sector will not stop direct coffee exports. The government said it is actually cultivating more direct markets in Korea, Belgium and the US which earn farmers more on their cherry.

    However, according to the agriculture cabinet secretary, the regulations will only allow the direct sale of coffee if the prices are higher or at least similar to the auction price. 

    This will help unearth the actual price of coffee globally, improving competition locally at the Nairobi Coffee Auction which cartels have often used to depress coffee prices.

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