There is an excitement ringing in Western Kenya as 120,000 farmers scoop soil from their backyards for a free sample test by American backed experts preparing the ground for avocadoes to replace sugarcane.
The central region is Kenya’s main producer of avocado, producing 90 percent of exported crop but which gets to the market at the same time as those from Peru and Mexico.
Kenya’s avocado struggles to compete with the ones from Peru and Mexico, which fetch premium prices and get to the market at the same time as these top producers, suppressing the price for the Kenyan fruit.
The Americans have pledged to Kenya expand its avocado export market under a $160 million (Sh22.6 billion) initiative to scale up avocado acreage in western Kenya to ensure there are enough volumes to sustain the export market when the produce from Latin America is off-season.
Kenya Crops and Dairy Market Systems (KCDMS) funded by USAID- Feed the Future Initiative, has mapped out experts who will go round in Kisumu, Homa Bay, Siaya, Migori, Kisii, Nyamira, Kakame-ga, Vihiga and Busia testing the soils of farmers for free.
The exercise, which runs up to September 14, will focus on establishing soil acidity which from samples collected so far, soil pH level ranges between 5.5-5. 7 per cent, ideal for avocados.
The ideal pH level for avocado trees is 6.5, however avocados can tolerate a wide range of soil pH’s, from 5.2 to 7.8 (6.0 – 6.5 being ideal).
KCDMS has been in Kenya over the last five years dealing with different value chains especially with avocado, mango, dairy, banana, passion fruits and also any other activities in production that would benefit the farmers in the region, specifically in nine counties from the Western area and three from Eastern Kenya.
The Americans have however noted 90 per cent of avocados produced in the country come from the Central and Eastern region.
Due to the climatic change, the volume is not increasing because land within these regions is constrained.
This is also due to the fact that productivity of the old trees has been going down.
To source for new lands to produce the fruit Kenya can only increase productivity by opening the Western and Nyanza regions where there is open land to grow avocados.
The soils are also good and they have a production period that could be an incentive for any exporter.
The KCDMS project seeks to supply over 100,000 avocado seedlings to farmers in western Kenya by November this year to increase agricultural production by spurring competitive, inclusive, and resilient market systems in the horticulture and dairy sectors.
The USAID-funded project is aimed at promoting conservation agriculture techniques to improve productivity among smallholder farmers.
The project is private and public sector driven to transform agrimarket systems. It also aims to create an enabling environment for businesses to thrive and encourage government level reforms that promote investment.