- After incurring losses from high production costs and low yields from growing corn, Kevin Koimat decided to try his hand at avocado to improve his profits.
- The 27-year-old petroleum engineer was only able to make Sh25,000 from an acre of corn after waiting a year.
- The corn business was no longer attractive to him because of the lucrative avocado crop that is now gaining ground in the North Rift.
There is no doubt that Trans-Nzoia and Uasin Gishu counties are the granaries of Kenya. However, a wind of change is hitting the region and farmers are adopting export crops like avocado, as growing corn becomes less profitable due to the high cost of production.
After incurring losses from high production costs and low yields from growing corn, Kevin Koimat decided to try his hand at avocado to improve his profits.
The 27-year-old petroleum engineer was only able to make Sh25,000 from an acre of corn after waiting a year. The corn business was no longer attractive to him because of the lucrative avocado crop that is now gaining ground in the North Rift.
In 2017, Mr. Koimat switched to avocado cultivation after learning from other farmers and receiving training in avocado production from the exporting company Habex Agro Limited, which is currently signing a 10-year purchase contract with the farmers.
In the first harvest year, the young farmer earned 50,000 shillings from three-quarters of an acre of land, and production started earlier than expected.
Normally, the production of this fruit begins at three years, but with good agronomic practices, they can begin at 24 months.
“With avocado, I harvest twice a year and earn double what I would earn from corn, I don’t regret having switched from corn to this crop,” said Mr. Koimat, a farmer in Uasin Gishu.
Mr. Koimat, who is the face of young farmers in the region, says that one of the biggest challenges they face in their farming activities is convincing their elders to give them land for alternative cultivation.
“It took me time to convince my mother to give me a plot of land to grow avocado, as she still believed in growing corn,” said the farmer.
However, after seeing the first harvest and avocado yields, his mother agreed to give him more land to expand his avocado business.
Mr. Koimat is just one of many farmers who have moved from corn to avocado cultivation on a large, medium and small scale.
Avocado profits are substantially higher than corn or wheat profits. For example, a producer would comfortably earn a net of 600,000 shillings a year from an acre of avocado when the fruit reaches its maximum yield, yields that a maize producer will take years to obtain.
Micah Cheserem, President and Owner of Equator Flowers Kenya Limited, says avocado is the surest way to alleviate poverty among farmers caused by dependence on corn.
Cheserem, who has put more than 200 acres of land under the avocado and plans to add more in the coming years, began growing fruit in 2017 while diversifying from rose blossom.
“We should stop relying on maize and switch to other valuable crops that not only provide good but reliable income to farmers,” said Mr. Cheserem, former Governor of the Central Bank of Kenya.
Equator has opened a state-of-the-art academy in Uasin Gishu, where farmers will be trained in avocado cultivation.
The initial training will be free, but farmers will start paying after a while. Those who will be trained will also have the opportunity to purchase avocado seedlings from the company’s nursery and sell fruit to the company once their harvest matures.
Equator plans to open a value-added plant as it seeks to start a direct export market in the near future and that is the reason why it is developing the ability of farmers to obtain more supplies from external producers to meet the volumes of export required.
The North Rift region has unique harvest seasons in the country, causing avocados from this region to earn farmers a premium price when they hit the market when all other regions have finished harvesting.
“Our harvest season is from July to October, when the demand for the product is very high in the market,” said Norah Cheserem, director of Equator.
Demand for seedlings has outstripped supply and counties and private nurseries work around the clock to ensure they have enough to meet farmers’ needs.
Antonina Lutta, senior director of horticulture for the Horticultural Directorate (HCD), says the challenge with growing avocado, especially in the North Rift, where the company is still new, is getting clean material.
“Clean planting materials have been a challenge, especially in the Rift Valley region where avocado cultivation is new,” said Ms. Lutta.
The official said that, however, management has made efforts to license private nurseries that now offer high-quality seedlings to farmers.
Ms Lutta said the challenge has been with roadside nurseries selling poor-quality seedlings to farmers, adding that counties and other state agencies have stepped up efforts to regulate the market.
“We insist on regulated nurseries for traceability issues, which is important not only for the farmer but also for the consumer, hence the need to ensure that planting materials are clean,” he said.
Uasin Gishu County Agriculture Executive Committee Member Samuel Yego said there has been a change in the region that has for years been recognized for growing corn as growers now seek high-value crops to increase their Profits.
Yego said the trend in corn was precipitated by the high cost of planting corn, declining profits and the unpredictable market.
“There has been a shift in recent years as more farmers move from corn and wheat to high-value crops,” said Mr. Yego.
He said, for example, that the cost of planting wheat has risen dramatically in recent years due to the fungal infection that has become notorious in the region.
This has forced farmers to spray their fields multiple times, even as the cost of the fungicide has risen due to the 16 percent tax levied on the chemical.
“In the next year, we do not want to be the barn only for corn, but also for diversified high-value crops such as avocado,” said the official.
The county has now been promoting the export of high-value crops in the region and has distributed seedlings of not only avocado, but also other plants such as tissue culture banana, coffee, and macadamia over the years.
He said the county has so far distributed 150,000 avocado seedlings, more than 50,000 tissue culture banana and 700,000 coffee seedlings to farmers in Uasin Gishu.
While Yego says corn remains crucial for the country due to food security, they are still interested in farmers diversifying into other crops.
In Trans-Nzoia, the county has subsidized the fruit seedlings it delivers to farmers as it moves forward to attract more people to plant high-value crops.
Trans Nzoia Agriculture CEC Mary Nzomo says that the acceptance of avocado in the county has been good for the last three years and that they are still sensitizing more growers, especially young people, to join this company.
“We have been doing a serious campaign on avocado development in our county as studies have shown that the environment here is good for this crop,” he said.
Dr. Nzomo said the future for avocado in Trans Nzoia is bright, especially after farmers started harvesting the crop in 2020 and witnessed the benefits.
Habex Agro Limited has been giving seedlings to farmers on credit with the cost recovered once the farmers start harvesting. This has made it easy for growers to obtain planting material very easily.
“Our terms have been very good for the farmers and, despite signing a 10-year contract, the price we give is what is on the market at any given time. This has led to more farmers joining the company, ”the company said.
Francis Serem and Beatrice Toroitich are some of the farmers who have benefited from a contract with Habex and say they do not regret having reduced their corn crop.
“I used to grow corn and wheat, but I have reduced my acreage to dedicate myself to growing avocado as it generates more income than corn and there is a ready market for it,” said Mr. Serem.
Murang’a County remains a major avocado producer in the country, accounting for more than 30 percent of total production in Kenya last year.
The Horticultural Directorate notes that the North Rift counties of Trans-Nzoia and Uasin Gishu have doubled the area of avocado production in the last year.