A few years back, Grace Ngungi took a leap of faith and began pulling down the coffee plants on her 400-hectare farm in Juja, Kiambu County, to replace half the farm with avocado trees.
She went ahead and invested a substantial amount of her savings into buying nearly 4,000 avocado seedlings, confident that the returns on investment would outweigh the cost of production.
"If I was to commercialise the 4,000 trees, with each tree giving me about 200 pieces of avocado which I would sell at Sh44 a piece in the export market, in just the first harvesting season, I would manage a gross return of nearly Sh36 million," says Ms Ngungi.
Like many other farmers who have followed suit, Ms Ngungi made the shift to avocado to increase her earnings. She sought to capture the growing demand of avocado in export markets, demand that has made the fruit a more lucrative export product in comparison to other cash crops.
Indeed, fierce competition among foreign markets has seen the value of products such as coffee drastically decline. While a kilo of coffee in the international market goes for about Sh115, a kilogram of avocado in Europe and the Middle East, where Kenya exports most of its avocado, goes for about Sh800, this, even when the cost of production for avocado is much lower than that of coffee.
Avocado is also easier to grow, does not require much pesticides, fertilizers or insecticides, and unlike other cash crops such as coffee which require a lot of water to grow, avocado can survive even in semi-arid conditions, the kind of conditions you will find in most parts of Kenya.
According to data from the Horticulture Directorate, Kenya produced almost 365,000 tons of avocado in 2019. Ten years prior to that, the country produced only 145,000 tons, a 60 percent jump in production.
While a majority of the avocado produced has been consumed locally, the increase in international demand has seen smallholder farmers (who make up for 80 percent of avocado growers in the country) take a keen interest in the export market. These farmers are now coming together to form lobby groups which will enable them to cut out brokers and fetch better returns for their avocado from the international market.
"Some brokers encourage farmers to harvest their avocados before they are ready for harvesting, telling them that they will be ripe before they get […]