When President Uhuru Kenyatta signed a deal with China for avocado and macadamia export, Samuel Maina saw a business opportunity and grabbed it.
For Maina, head of news at the Kenya Broadcasting Corporation, the goal was simple: to provide quality avocado seedlings that would drive the export market. And he set out to execute it at his farm in Murang’a county.
“I knew that for the export market to thrive, the starting point would be access to quality seedlings, and I took up the responsibility,” Maina said.
He approached Equity Bank for a Sh1.2 million loan to kick-start commercial farming of fruits and tree nurseries at his five-acre farm in Pundamilia, Makuyu township. He used the money to put an irrigation system, a net to provide shade for the nursery and to buy the small plastic papers used to support the seedlings.
“One is required to get a permit from Nema since plastic bags are banned. You are given a letter which you take to the manufacturer to produce papers according to your specifications,” he said.
Samuel Maina has planted 65,000 avocado tree seedlings in Murang'a county
His nursery has been certified by the Horticulture Development Authority because the avocados are meant for the export market.
"HDA has to come and look at how one manages his nursery if you are a commercial farmer of avocado seedlings. If you want to buy good seedlings, ensure you are buying them from a certified nursery,” Maina said.
Once he had prepared and planted the nursery, Maina approached the county government to look for a market for the avocado seedlings.
“I learnt that the county is planning to distribute about 100,000 avocado seedlings to farmers in Murang'a, and I wanted to cash in on this opportunity. Murang'a Governor Mwangi Wairia came to visit my farm after I approached him and told him about the project because it is better to buy from someone who has bulk due to the economies of scale,” he said.
“The governor has a heart for any farming initiative. You approach him with anything farming-related, he will listen to you and instruct his officers to give you expert advice for the final product to be of high quality.”
SOUTH AFRICAN OPTION
Maina has planted over 65,000 hass avocado seedlings in one and half acres of his farm. He will be selling the seedlings in April during the March-May long rains season. And after three years, farmers will be exporting those avocados to China.
A single avocado seedling sells at Sh150-200. And if Maina can sell all of them, he could pay up the loan and also expand his farming venture
The deal that paved the way was signed in November, while Uhuru was attending the Shanghai Import Expo. It covered exportation of avocados as well as mangoes and cashew nuts.
Uhuru also discussed the ‘Sanitary and Phytosanitary’ deal between the two countries, which would enable Kenya to export more than 40 per cent fresh produce to the expansive Chinese market.
To exploit the new market, the government plans to launch a five million macadamia and avocado fruit tree seedlings initiative this year.
Besides the China market, avocado farmers also stand to benefit from the South Africa export market after a ban that had been put in 2007 was lifted last year.
Agriculture CS Mwangi Kiunjuri said in December that farmers will receive macadamia and avocado seedlings, which have a ready market in South Africa and China.
He said the move aims to ensure food and nutrition security, and that there is a market for the commodities, especially avocados in South Africa. China has also been identified as a market for fruits and vegetables.
In 2007, export of avocados to South Africa was stopped due to fruit fly infestation, but the ban was lifted in August last year. While announcing the good news, Deputy President William Ruto said during the Kenya Trade Week that apart from the SA market, the produce has also attracted interest in various European markets.
Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Services managing director Esther Kimani said the export market was re-opened after long negotiations between the two countries.
“We would like to report that the avocado export market has finally been re-opened after long negations spearheaded by Kephis and other stakeholders,” she said in a statement.
Following the ban, Kenya developed a pest management plan, which created pest-free zones to reduce infestation of the fruit fly. Various studies conducted by Kephis found the quarantine effect to be negligible under standard export conditions.
Maina's tree nursery
Even though Maina wanted to make some extra coins from the avocao and tree nurseries venture, he had a deeper driving force and passion for the business.
The head of KBC recalls growing up in Gatanga 20 years ago, when the government would give tree seedlings to families for free.
“There were trees all over in the village because people were keen on planting trees. But then the power-saw came and people started cutting down trees without replacing them. This trend has continued to date, and trees are being cut at a higher rate than they are being planted,” Maina said.
Last year, when Maina decided to venture into the tree nursery business, all he wanted was to replant trees and restore the green environment he once enjoyed as a boy.
But a visit to the UN Environment Programme's offices in Nairobi changed his plan, and he decided to venture into commercial tree seedlings farming. This is after Maina read in a report that while many Kenyans may be willing to plant trees to help increase the country's tree cover to 10 per cent, they lack quality seedlings.
“That is when I decided to offer a solution to this problem and not only provide trees seedlings to Kenyans who are willing to plant tress but to also seek to achieve my goal of making my country green again,” Maina said.
In June, Maina visited the Kenya Forestry Research Institute in Muguga, where he bought an assortment of tree seedlings and started his tree nursery.
He started with 100,000 indigenous and exotic tree seedlings, some of which were bought by the Kenya Forest Service during the short rains season.
TREE COVER TARGET
Maina believes that for the country to achieve food security, it must take care of the environment. And, he adds, planting of fruit trees goes hand in hand with planting of other trees, especially exotic, that help with wind breaking in one’s farm, especially Grevillea robusta tree, commonly known as the silky oak.
He says if the government uses students to promote tree planting, Kenya can achieve the 10 per cent tree cover in a short time.
“If you give each student four trees to plant at school and home, achieving the 10 per cent tree cover can be easy. But we have to provide quality seedlings for people to plant, and this will not require too much money,” Maina said.
“If we do not take care of our environment, this country will be in disaster years to come. You cannot achieve one of the main Big Four agenda items on food and nutrition security without effective environment conservation and protection.
“Food security means you are doing irrigation with water from rivers coming from the mountains. So if you don't take care of the forests, even providing irrigation and food will not be possible. We need to take of the environment for food, our children and livestock.”
Water is a big problem for Maina. He has to spend a lot of money to ensure there is water throughout the season, even during the dry period like in January. He uses 10,000 litres of water a week, but in a dry season like now, he uses double the amount of water in his nurseries. In total, he has eight tanks of 80,000 litres of water, and he hires a lorry to fill them for January to March.
So far he has about 400,000 fruit and tree seedlings in his nurseries, and he is targeting one million seedlings by the end of the year. To achieve this, Maina is planning to drill a borehole and also introduce macadamia seedlings.
He says people should work towards promoting tree planting instead of sitting in conferences and just talking about it.
“Let us move to the villages and encourage groups and individuals to start nurseries. People must leave the comfort of hotels in Nairobi and start working. We must move from talking to actually doing it,” Maina says.