Farmers turn to Hass avocado
On August 2, Kenya exported the first batch of fresh domestically grown avocados to China, which was described as a game-changer not only for the country but also for the East African region. East.
The move also made Kenya, Africa’s largest avocado producer, the first African country to export fresh avocados to China, a market with a population of over 1.4 billion.
So far, China has allowed 15 Kenyan companies to export avocados to its market following a lengthy audit and verification process.
Already, Kenya has more than three million smallholder farmers growing avocados and it is this success, with support from China, that farmers in Sembabule district and surrounding areas are looking to build on. In the first six months of 2022, Kenya exported 44.26 million kilograms of avocados overseas, earning $51.18 million (Shs. 198.2 billion).
While Uganda has shown potential in recent years, the country still has a long way to go to come close to what Kenya exports. In 2021, for example, the export value of Ugandan avocado was $1.26 million (4.8 billion shs).
Cattle farming and dairy farming remain popular economic activities in Sembabule, but the district is taking small steps to diversify into other products such as coffee and, lately, avocado farming.
Chinese government officials led by Zhang Lizhong, the Chinese ambassador to Uganda, working with leaders in the region, are on the ground supporting a group of farmers in the district to get production started.
Avocado cultivation in Sembabule is supported by the Kanyisa Hass Avocado Project (KHAP), an initiative of the Kanyisa Food Security Foundation. The initiative already has an offshoot, the Kanyisa Out Grower Project which targets women and youth.
Outgrower programs are arrangements whereby a company secures its supply of agricultural products by contracting individual farmers, or farmers organized into producer groups, to produce crops for sale to that company. Ideally, these are win-win agreements.
In the current configuration, a farmer pays 30 percent of the seedlings and the other percentage is covered by the government through the Ministry of Agriculture.
Women and young people also have the opportunity and the time to raise capital. They also receive training on how to manage and invest money.
In Lugusulu, Lwebitakuli, Mawogola County, Sembabule District, the Kanyisa Hass Avocado Project has already secured 250 acres of land to set up an avocado orchard to support demonstration and training activities for smallholder farmers. Over 60 acres have already been planted. Project officials said they plan to grow, produce, process and market a fresh variety of Hass avocado and avocado oil for export. An additional 170 acres have been set aside for demonstration and farmer training in Macademia cultivation. Of these 80 acres have already been planted.
“The project is very promising and has a very good market. People love it and also the oil produced. It is a green product. In China, we like it and hope that in the future it will be exported to the Chinese market. We will be the first to buy it. The sisters are growing as much as possible,” Ambassador Zhang said while addressing a team of female leaders selected from the producers.
The Hass avocado project in Sembabule district will target at least 8,000 acres with 25,000 smallholder farmers and 5,000 commercial farmers. A smallholder farmer may average an acre or less, while commercial farmers with high means of production will aim for between 20 and 50 acres.
“This project is well aligned with the Ugandan government’s efforts to improve the living standards of the majority of poor Ugandans through the national agricultural policy of a one acre farm model and the need to increase exports,” said Clovis Manirambona, the head of operations at Kanyisa.
The Hass avocado tree can be planted with other crops which, according to the promoters of the project in Sembabule, is a key argument for selling the idea to the community. Sembabule has very low rainfall and experiences long periods of drought, which is considered a major challenge for Hass avocado cultivation. To succeed, farmers need easy access to water during the dry season.
Victoria Mayiga, president of Sembabule Women’s Farmers Sacco, said the women’s team she leads had received 500 million shillings from former regional MP Sam Kutesa and another 100 million shillings from President Museveni. The group has 547 women and 119 groups that save and borrow from the Sacco. In an interview, she says that its members have been mobilized to benefit from the project and participate as small producers to increase their income.
“We expect 2,500 households to grow avocado because we have the market. We have already signed a memorandum of understanding with the Chinese to help us with the market and other people who will come and buy our avocado,” she says. Mayiga says they hope to leverage their experience in coffee culture to leverage the lawyers’ fortunes.
Shartsi Musherure Kutesa, the MP for Mawogola North County, said he has enlisted the expertise of different countries where the crop is already doing well to help train farmers in the region.
“We have one goal in mind; increase in household income. We are confident that we have the technical expertise to help our women understand how it is grown. It takes time, just like coffee, but it even has higher yields than coffee,” she says.
Water is a big challenge says Musherure. She, however, says her office and other actors are pushing for government-funded water projects in the area to deliver on their promise to residents, both in terms of affordability and accessibility.
In 2022, the estimated price range for avocados in Uganda is Shs 1,629 per kilogram. Based on a farm gate price of Shs 1,500 per kilogram, a farmer can expect to earn Shs 60 million by the seventh year from an acre. Thanks to the agreement with the Chinese, Kenyan farmers earn at least Shs 3,250 per kilogram, more than double the expected farm gate price in Uganda. One acre requires a maximum of 166 trees in a planting spacing of 6x4m whose production is estimated at over 450,000 fruits (75,000 kg) according to the Ministry of Agriculture.