Kenya is now positioning itself as an avocado oil exporter to South Korea, according to Okisegere Ojepat, CEO of Fresh Produce Consortium – Kenya (FPC – Kenya).
Mr. Ojepat hosted Ambassador Mwende Mwinzi, the Kenyan Ambassador to Korea to have a first–hand experience of the work that goes into avocado processing in Naivasha.
“We were very happy with the good work our member is doing as we work to open up market for Kenya’s fresh produce/agricultural produce in Korea,” he said.
Kenya has huge potential for avocado production from both small scale and large scale farmers which makes it the world’s third largest producer of avocados. Avocado is also Kenya’s leading fruit export, accounting for nearly one-fifth of its total horticultural exports.
In terms of export, Kenya ranked 8th globally (2.1% of market share) in 2019 in export of avocados shipping out 59,000 tons with annual value of Ksh10.6 Billion ($97.92 million), behind Mexico, Netherlands, Peru, Spain, Chile, Colombia and the United States.
Among the top exporters, the fastest-growing avocados exporters since 2015 were: Colombia (up 1,607%), Dominican Republic (up 424.2%), Morocco (up 206.6%) and Kenya (up 161.5%). In 2020, up to end of October Kenya exported 68,000 tons valued at Ksh.14 Billion ($129.33 million).
However, the share of Kenya’s total avocado production that is exported is the lowest among the major avocado exporters. Only about 10 percent of its total production is exported, while South Africa exports about 60 percent of its avocado production; and Chile, 55 percent. Moreover, the share of Kenya’s total avocado production destined for export has been declining.
According to a study by Science Direct, the difficulty of increasing the export share is often attributed to poor quality; high regulatory standards in export markets; the weak institutional capacity of small-scale producers; and inadequate capacity for, and coordination of, fruit exportation.
The poor quality of Kenyan avocados is mainly due to the inadequate knowledge of modern production practices on the part of small-scale producers, who have traditionally grown their trees for domestic markets or for non–commercial purposes, and to the limited dissemination of market-preferred varieties.
Kenyan avocados are grown naturally in the most ideal conditions in the world right on the equator. Thus they require very little crop protection, making them mostly organically grown and produced. Kenya’s equatorial climate allows it to produce avocado throughout the year.
Challenges faced in Avocado farming
Currently however, according to the Kenya Agricultural & Livestock Research Organization (KALRO) the avocado value chain is facing various challenges which prevent it from the realization of its full potential. Top among them is the fruit fly infestation at production stage which causes major losses at farm and post-harvest levels.
“The total loss is estimated to be as high as 30% at both levels. In addition fruit fly infestation affects market access of the crop since the insect is a quarantine pest. Besides fruit fly infestation farmers often harvest immature fruits which end up spoiling the market. Over the years KALRO has developed integrated pest management options for the control of fruit fly on avocado which are environmentally friendly. These technologies if disseminated to farmers would reduce infestation by at least 20%.” KALRO states in its analysis adding that farmers would also be trained on the appropriate maturity index which would ensure only mature fruits are marketed.
Modern agri-food systems exert a strong competitive pressure on all value chain participants, as firms impose stricter requirements for suppliers in terms of quality, timing, handling, and other delivery arrangements.
The difficulty of increasing the export share is often attributed to poor quality; high regulatory standards in export markets; the weak institutional capacity of small-scale producers; and inadequate capacity for, and coordination of, fruit exportation.
The poor quality of Kenyan avocados, according to Science Direct, is mainly due to the inadequate knowledge of modern production practices on the part of small-scale producers, who have traditionally grown their trees for domestic markets or for non–commercial purposes, and to the limited dissemination of market-preferred varieties.
Given the weak organization of avocado markets, most smallholder growers market their produce through middlemen, who may be legally certified agents or unofficial brokers. Realizing the underexploited export opportunities offered by the country’s sizeable production, the Kenyan government has been supporting smallholder farmers by linking them to exporters through grower schemes.
Currently, only a few small-scale producers are linked to exporters, through contract farming; and these producers are mainly found in Murang’a County, in central Kenya.
The move by FPC – Kenya is therefore timely as it targets placing Kenya on the South Korean map for avocado as well as its oil.
Avocado potential in Kenya
According to the Avocado Society of Kenya, data indicates avocado oil is sold for export to traders and retailers in over 30 countries.
Currently, Kenya has entered the league of counties that export frozen avocados. Two Kenyan exporters are currently exporting this value added product which fetches higher returns and guarantees longer shelf life. Besides exporting raw avocados, Kenya does value addition by exporting frozen avocados, avocado purée and avocado oil.
Avocado oil production
In a detailed analysis by the Meru County Investment & Development Corporation in partnership with USAID, the study on the avocado fruit indicates that the oil content ranges from 10%-12% depending on the location of the farm and the fruit ripening stage.
Chemical extraction by solvents and centrifugal or pressing are the two main oil extraction methods in use.