After waiting for 11 years, Kenyan farmers can now export avocados to South Africa after the country lifted a ban imposed in 2007 due to fruit fly menace.
The clearance followed talks between the two nations.
The South African plant quarantine authorities imposed a ban on avocados from Kenya in 2007 due to the presence of oriental fruit fly (Bactrocera Invadens). The fly, which was a new pest from Asia, had first been reported in Kenya in 2003, and subsequently spread to fruit production areas in Kenya.
The news was broken on July 24 this year by South African authorities who wrote to both the ministries of Agriculture and that of Trade.
Earlier efforts to re-open the market included the requirements by South African quarantine authorities that Kenya establishes pest-free areas and cold treatment, which where not feasible due to the high costs involved.
“This led to engagement with the South Africa authorities at the principal secretary level, technical and even private sector level with a target of re-opening the market,” said Mr John Mwaniki, the director of policy at the Ministry of Agriculture.
Mr Mwaniki said that the current breakthrough came about after South Africa agreed to change its import requirements to a ‘detailed systems approach applied in the orchards/production sites and pack houses’.
He noted, however, that the development was made possible following a report in the media in 2016 on the dangers of the pest to avocado farming in the country and the neighbouring states.
The report revealed that the risk imposed for avocado exportable varieties by the oriental fruit fly were negligible under standard export conditions. Mr Mwaniki said that the development forced South Africa to send experts to Kenya in April 2018 for a pre-shipment audit of the production sites and pack-houses.
The one-week trip was sponsored by the Regional Integration Implementation Programme (RIIP) project, drawn from the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) Adjustment Facility (CAF).
According to Mr Mwaniki, it is after this one-week visit that they received communication from South Africa that the market is now open.
Although the market was opened, he stated, Kenya was given conditions to make sure avocados are inspected at the field level by Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Service (Kephis).
And for a farmer to get certified, Ms Esther Kimani, Managing Director Kephis, said it is mandatory for a farmer to conduct management practices for fruit fly and codling moth. This, she said, is through setting up traps for the two pests in the avocado farms.
“I can confirm Kephis is subsequently working with avocado exporters to ensure that they adhere to the systems approach requirements,” stated Ms Kimani.
She however said those exporters who want to access the market and whose production sites and pack houses for avocado had been approved before the closure, need to apply afresh for an import permit.
Agriculture CS Mwangi Kiunjuri has already partnered with several county governments in distributing subsidised and certified Hass avocado seedlings.
In the past two weeks, Mr Kiunjuri has distributed avocado seedlings in Meru, Kapsabet and Bomet.
Already more than 10 counties have introduced avocado farming as one of their main cash crop with governors spearheading the initiative of distributing the subsidised certified seedlings.
The counties are Meru, Murang’a, Kericho, Bomet, Nandi, Nyeri and Nyandurua among others.
Farmers from these counties have been depending on other type of crops and dairy production but the agriculture ministry is encouraging intercropping with avocado and macadamia.
He said this will automatically translate to more earnings and avoid over dependence of one type of farming.
Currently the 112,107 acres are under avocado farming but according to Mr Kiunjuri, they want to increase it to 200,210 acres by 2022.
With the expanding market, the minister said the ministry will be gradually expanding the acreage under avocado by availing one million subsidised and certified Hass avocado seedlings to willing farmers annually.
Kenya’s main export market is Middle East, Europe and now South Africa.