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The Rise of Kenya’s Avocado Industry

Agriculture in Kenya represents the largest share of the economy, being the second largest contributor to the country’s total GDP while employing 75% of the labour force. Within the agricultural sector, the horticultural sub-sector is the fastest growing industry, recording an average growth of 15- 20% per annum.

The demand for avocado oil in the local and international market is on the rise. Kenya produces an estimated 115,000 metric tones of avocado annually, 70% of which is grown by small-scale farmers. Some years back, most of the avocados were sold in local markets, but this has drastically changed today, where three quarters of the avocado fruit grown is exported to other countries.

Avocado has been introduced into Kenya a long time ago, significant expansion in production has taken place only recently. About 150 hectares were planted to avocado by 1973, and the biggest plantation did not exceed 40 hectares. Some 23 tons of avocado were exported in 1970. There has been considerable expansion in production during the last decade, the 1974 development plan having included a programme of planting 1 450 hectares to avocado by 1982 in order to meet local and export demand as well as to meet the demand of processing industry.

For farmers in rural Kenya and in the country’s export sector this ‘green gold’ has helped boost incomes and job creation. Almost all avocados in Kenya are grown by smallholder farmers.These smallholder farmers mostly grow 10-20 trees in their small farms averaging 1-2 acres.

Over the last few years, avocado production in the country has been on the rise. Reports indicate that in 2009, 2500 tonnes of avocadoes compared with 1800 tonnes the year before. Since the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (KARI) introduced the fruit in Central Kenya in the late 70’s the country has grown just two varieties. Kenya earned 6.5 billion shillings and 5.2 billion shillings in 2016 and 2015 from avocado exports respectively, according to the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics.

Kenya’s fertile soil and temperate climate have made it ideal for growing avocados and the country has become the only African nation in the top ten largest avocado producers. The country produces an estimate of 115,000 metric tonnes of avocado per year. 70% of this is grown by small-scale farmers.The avocado production in Kenya is cultivated over a wide range of climates, with a 2,500m altitude above sea level being the most ideal. The tree requires cool to warm temperatures, with the minimum not falling below 70C and a maximum of 200C (the optimum range is 150C to 250C).

The global Avocado Oil market is valued at 449 million US$ in 2020 is expected to reach 673.6 million US$ by the end of 2026, growing at a CAGR of 5.9% during 2021-2026. Avocado oil is edible oil pressed from the fruit of the avocado. As food oil, it is used as an ingredient in other dishes, and as cooking oil. It is also used for lubrication and in cosmetics, where it is valued for its supposed regenerative and moisturizing properties.

Ahuacatlan Avocado Oil was the world’s biggest manufacturer in the Avocado Oil industry, accounted for 15% revenue market share of the global market, followed by Sesajal, Yasin, Bella Vado, Chosen Foods, Grupo Industrial Batellero, La Tourangelle, Avoolio, Mt. Kenya Fresh Avocados, Kevala, Bio Planete, Hain Celestial Group, Da Gama Avocado Oil, Cate de mi Corazn (Madivi), Tron Hermanos, Proteco Oils, Westfalia, Aconcagua Oil & Extract, Olivado, Grove Avocado Oil, AvoPure, Aceites Especiales, AvoPacific, Grupo Oleo.The top 6 companies had a combined market share of 65% of the global total. North America was the largest consumption area in the world in 2018.

On 26 April 2019, Kenya took its avocado export drive to new heights by signing a Memorandum of Understanding on sanitary and phytosanitary measures to enable the export of the product to China.
The signing of the agreement, which makes Kenya the first African nation to export avocados to the Asian nation with a market of over 1.4 billion consumers, comes after a long and comprehensive approval process that included Chinese experts visiting Kenyan farmers. This is a big deal because China is an important and growing market in the global avocado sphere ranked as the ninth largest importer in 2018.

Kenya’s annual economic growth slowed to 4.9 percent in the first quarter of 2020 from 5.5 percent in the previous period. That was the slowest pace of expansion since the second quarter of 2017, as the uncertainty created by the coronavirus pandemic affected severely the country’s tourism sector as reflected in accommodation & food services (-9.3 percent vs 9 percent in Q4).

Avocados are among export crops in many countries since they are widely consumed in the US, Europe, and Asia

Kenya has done extremely well when it comes to accessing new markets and increasing its volumetric growth rate. This has substantially aided the growth of the avocado industry. Kenya is now Africa’s second largest avocado growing and exporting country in Africa, after South Africa. Kenya’s main competitors on the European market are South Africa, Israel, and Spain.

Avocados are widely used in Kenyan homes. They are used as baby feed, mashed and mixed in food (some peo ple cannot stand this), or used as dessert in homes and hotels as well. There are quite a number of avocado types grown all over the country. “Fuerte” is the leading export variety followed by “Hass” and a promising local selection. The Pinkerton avocado cultivar is also grown in Kenya although in way smaller quantities.

Hass avocado farming and other local varieties like Fuerte and the Pinkerton do well for both small scale and large scale farmers. Hass avocados are the best to start with as they take about 3 to 4 years to mature.

One Hass avocado seedling goes for about 150 Kenya shillings. Planting about 200 avocado seedlings in a land slightly large than an acre will give immense earnings once the fruits mature. The price of an avocado fruit usually ranges from 10 shillings to 30 shillings depending on factors such as grading.

During Covid-19 pandemic, Kenya made record sales from avocado exports. The industry has generated revenue for Kenya as it struggles to maintain the economy. Kenya sold more than 58,400 tonnes of avocado to 42 countries in the first half of the year. It earned more than $75m (£59m) from the exports. Data from the Directorate of Horticulture and the Avocado Society of Kenya shows that sales almost topped the total quantity sold last year.


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