MONEY GROWS ON TREES

Rift farmers shift from maize to avocado, high-value crops

The farmers says this is due to poor maize prices and high cost of production

In Summary

• Agriculture CED Yego says due to climate change,  high production costs, county urges farmers to diversity to high value crops like avocado, coffee, macadamia, bananas

• He says they also want to use Eldoret International Airport which has a cold room where perishable produce can be stored  and taken to the market in a few days. 

For many years, maize farmers have been dismayed, disgusted by poor maize prices, high production costs, poor harvests and post-harvest losses.

Beatrice Toroitich, also an avocado farmer from Kapsosio village in Moiben sub-County, Uasin Gishu County started growing avocados three years ago.. She has planted 80 trees per acre.
Beatrice Toroitich, also an avocado farmer from Kapsosio village in Moiben sub-County, Uasin Gishu County started growing avocados three years ago.. She has planted 80 trees per acre.
Image: AGATHA NGOTHO

For many years, maize farmers have been dismayed, disgusted by poor maize prices, high production costs, poor harvests and post-harvest losses

As earnings decline, farmers in parts of the Rift Valley are steadily diversifying to high-value crops such as avocado, macadamia, tissue culture bananas and coffee, and maybe keeping some maize.

Though commercial avocado farming is a relatively new venture, farmers say it is more profitable due to the ready market and low production costs.

Farmer Francis Serem from Kapsosio village in Moiben subcounty, Uasin Gishu, ventured into avocado farming in 2018.

He has 100 trees that he is already harvesting and another 80 newly planted trees.

He has 100 trees that he is already harvesting and another 80 newly planted trees.

“I used to grow maize and wheat but I have reduced my acreage under maize to get into avocado farming.This will earn me more money than maize, as there is a ready market production costs are minimal," he told the Star.

 

Serem is a member of the Kapsosio Avocado Agri CBO. It has 78 farmers contracted by Habex Agro Limited Company for 10 years years to grow avocados for the export to the EU, especially Spain and Germany.

When Habex Agro Limited came knocking, Serem did not hesitate and decided to be among the first farmers to adopt avocado farming i the region.

“We were given avocados seedlings and I decided to change because I was tired of maize farming. Avocado farming has a ready market and the cost of production is low compared to maize.

"Even if the tree doesn't produce, a farmer can burn them to make charcoal and earn money," he said.

Serem has so far earned Sh150,000 from the avocados he has harvested this year — four times more than what he earned from one acre of maize per year.

Avocado farmer Beatrice Toroitic from Kapsosio village in Moiben started started growing avocados three years ago, 80 trees per acre.

Francis Serem, an avocado farmer from Kapsosio village in Moiben sub County in Uasin Gishu County and Justus Kiprop, an agronomist from Habex Agro Limited.
BIG PROFIT: Francis Serem, an avocado farmer from Kapsosio village in Moiben sub County in Uasin Gishu County and Justus Kiprop, an agronomist from Habex Agro Limited.
Image: AGATHA NGOTHO

In the first harvest, Toroitich got about 10 kilos from each tree, which amounts to Sh80,000 with a kilo selling for Sh100.

In the second harvest, the yields increased to 20 kilos per tree and she earned Sh160,000. In the third harvest she earned almost double — Sh300,000.

“With avocados, you harvest three times in a year. If I was doing maize, I would have earned between Sh25,000 to Sh30,000 in a year,” Torich said.

Kevin Koimat, 27, a graduate in petroleum engineernig, says avocado farming is far more profitable than maize farming.

“I started growing avocado in 2018 but it took time to convince my mother to give me some land fo avocado instead of maize. She still believed in growing maize despite the poor prices and low production over the years,” he said.

Koimat planted 60 trees in the three quarters of an acre his mother gave him. He earned about about Sh20,000 in the first harvest, Sh30,000 in the second harvest and Sh50,000 in the third harvest.

In one year, the college graduate from the Rift Valley Technical Training Institute in Eldoret, earned Sh100,000 from avocado farming.

“Had I planted maize, I would have harvested at most 12 bags of maize, earning Sh30,000 in a year, with a 90kg bag selling at Sh2,500.

Samuel Yego, Agriculture CEC for Uasin Gishu, said to date Uasin Gishu is one of Kenya's food basket counties, with maize being the focus crop.

He said the county is still growing more than 100,000ha (247,105 acres) but wheat production has been decreasing due to the cost of production, especially chemicals.

It now plants 16,500ha  (40,772) hectares. There is also a lot of competition, especially from Ukraine. Climate change is another problem.

He said for these reasons, the county is advising farmers to diversify their crops, so they don't lose everything if climate change causes a single crop to fail.

“We are encouraging farmers to plant high-value crops to maximise profits and earn more from their land," CEC Yego said.

Francis Serem, an avocado farmer from Kapsosio village in Moiben subcounty in Uasin Gishu.
HAPPY FARMER: Francis Serem, an avocado farmer from Kapsosio village in Moiben subcounty in Uasin Gishu.
Image: AGATHA NGOTHO

"With some of these high-value crops, you can earn twice a year. We are promoting avocado, coffee, macadamia, tissue culture bananas and also export vegetables.

Yego said avocado is becoming a food of choice for many people in the world.

"With Kenya being at the equator where we enjoy almost 12 hours of sunshine, we can be able to harvest avocados when the rest of the world is not able to,” he said.

The CEC said the county has so far given farmers almost 150,000  covering about 700 acres.

“We want more farmers to engage in this avocado farming so we can join other countries exporting avocados to the world,: he said.

Eldoret has an international airport with a cold room where perishable produce can be stored comfortably and taken to the market in a few days, he said.

Antonina Lutta, senior horticulture officer, Horticulture Crops Directorate (HCD) under the Agriculture and Food Authority (AFA) in Nakuru County noted that

Getting clean planting materials has been a challenge, especially in the Rift Valley region where avocado farming is new, Antonina Lutta of the Horiculture Crops Directorate said. She is senior senior horticulture officer in Nakuru.

The directorate falls under the Agriculture and Food Authority.

Traceability is important to the consumer, hence, the need to ensure planting material is clean.

She said traceability is important to the consumer, hence, the need to ensure the use clean planting material.

“Many  roadside nurseries do not use clean planting materials so we advise farmers to always buy their seedlings from registered orchards or nurseries," Lutta said..

The rooting media for the seedlings is also a challenge. The directorate recommends that even for a simple farmer, use forest soil, manure and sand in the ratio of 3:2:1 to have a good rooting media for your planting material,” she said.

(Edited by V. Graham)