Kenya is a good country and one that we occasionally get to enjoy and participate in investment fads.
Avocado growing for export is the current word on the investment screen and this has attracted the attention of the smallholder farmers in the rural parts of Kenya. Can one or two avocado trees that volunteered in the backyard be the magic password to riches? This may not work but as the old adage goes there is security in numbers. If several farmers with the right set of avocado trees compound their efforts, get and apply the required expert knowledge onto their two to Three avocado trees, magic is bound to happen! If they get access to the right market, of course with quality products.
The key message to anyone whether it is the large producer or the smallholder farmer remains that quality sells. In the avocado world, and indeed in the agriculture world, quality must be backed with product safety, social compliance, conscious environmental conservation practices and using independent, credible third-party accreditation bodies to certify you are doing this. This in the retail world is packaged as responsible production and or responsible sourcing. It is the user manual that will accompany your product to the market.
Kenya is currently in the top ten avocado exporter list globally, selling about 70,000 tons of fruit annually to international markets. Locally, smallholder farmers are the bedrock of avocado growing in the country, driving its increasing production. Smallholder farmers and producers need to continue addressing product quality, safety and traceability concerns. Once these are addressed and validated by independent third-party experts, they exist locally, our name as Kenya on the avocado map will be much better. This will lead to more trust, better relationship with the consumers which may lead to better returns to the farmer.
To tackle similar challenges facing the smallholder farmer, in 2012, Kakuzi Plc, which grows, packs and markets quality avocados, initiated the integration of smallholder farmers into their business. The goal was and still is to economically empower the farmers. The firm that is the largest avocado producer in East Africa, directly engages and buys from the farmers. It is a deliberate attempt to invest in a sustainable supply of quality fruit instead of the more accessible and less risky route through brokers. In which case traceability, which is a key ingredient to avocado export is lost if one goes the broker route.
One can argue that this only makes Kakuzi a bigger broker. Whichever way one wants to look at it, the difference is in the mode of interaction. Kakuzi pays the farmer a farm-gate price on delivery of the fruit, packs and sells the fruit and then shares the resultant profit with the farmer as a second payment. This model is similar to the smallholder tea model. The audited accounts for small holder fruit sales are also made publicly available. At the moment, 125 farmer groups with a membership of 3,000 smallholder farmers have signed up for the structured initiative to address some of their primary challenges.
Through market linkages, the farmers can participate in avocado export markets, which positively impacts incomes, revenues, prices, and labour inputs. The reality is that the international markets generally offer higher prices than local markets in Kenya and Sub-Saharan Africa. Hence the need to work closely with the smallholder farmers to ensure their fruits meet international quality standards enhances access to current and emerging markets.
Through the partnership, smallholder farmers can tap into Kakuzi’s already established export market. Farmers also get to enjoy free extension services guaranteeing better crop husbandry and output. As part of the extension services and small holder support, through information technology solutions, the farmers enjoy regular SMS and WhatsApp notifications in their local dialect on matters affecting them and advice concerning them on farming practices and market developments. Ultimately, the goal is to ensure compliance with the high-quality crop husbandry and harvest standards and improved cash-flow directly to the farmer.
Such inclusion of smallholders in agriculture and other minor players in the value chain, such as Small and Medium-sized Enterprises, might be the key to growing a thriving avocado industry in Kenya. It will contribute towards an all-inclusive and economically empowered society.
For a large agribusiness player such as Kakuzi, shared prosperity speaks to walking hand in hand with small holder farmers.
The writer is the Executive Head - Corporate Affairs, KAKUZI PLC