Tapping into the Green Gold of Avocados in Loitoktok, Kenya

Avocado Seedlings Avocado Seedlings Photo Courtesy of Green Front Initiative

Tapping into the Green Gold of Avocados in Loitoktok, Kenya

By / Sustainability / Tuesday, 18 September 2018 13:30

The two trucks were straining under the weight of four tonnes of avocadoes. After leaving Loitoktoka border-town with a spending view of Mt Kilimanjaro, they snaked their way to the port-city of Mombasa. About a fortnight later, the avocados landed in Dubai. One month later two young farmers in Loitoktok received their cheque of several thousands of dollars. This was green economy at its best.

Although the above scene hasn’t actually happened, I have no doubt that these two young men are going to be the leading avocado exporters in a few years.

Until two weeks earlier, I didn’t even know that these two existed. Thanks to the Global Landscapes Forum which was held in Nairobi in late August, we met and became friends. We agreed to catch up after the Forum so that I could write their story of smart agriculture. Not just climate smart agriculture, but also business smart.

‘We are on our way to Nairobi.’ This message arrived in my phone at exactly 5.01AM on September 7th.

Why would they leave this early? I wondered. I later learnt that they had to leave early since the trip from Loitoktok to Nairobi would take them about four hours. Once in Nairobi, they spent about an hour trying to locate Kaldis restaurant along Kimathi Street where we were to meet. 

George was wearing a T-shirt emblazoned with ‘VSO’ and a coat that hungloosely on his lean frame.He stifled a yawn as he settled into his seat directly opposite me.

'Many NGOs meant for working in the community are based in towns and they do very little on the ground,' he said as he ordered white coffee. That is why he had no regrets for being rare in the big city of Nairobi.

Eric was also donning a coat. The large smile on his face put me at ease as we began digging deep into their thrilling agricultural story.

loitoktokGeorge, Erick and a member of their organizationEric and George are co-founders of the Green Front Initiative, a Community-based Organization that is based in Loitoktok. Their co-leaders of the initiative are Philip the area Chief (local administrator) and James Kamau, a farmer. Theirs is not just another CBO in a country that has thousands of them. Rather, it is a fresh organization with a very innovative and practical approach to farming.

“We are using agro-forestry as a way of empowering youth and women,” George says with the intense look of someone who truly believes what he is saying. I know from reading that agro-forestry is a cocktail of crops and trees. But this is the first I am hearing of a youth organization that is actually implementing it on the ground, so am all ears.

“Within the next one year, we intend to plant almost ten thousand avocado trees,” George says.

“We already have 8,000 seedlings,” Erick adds, “we will plant them together with food crops.”

They got the seedlings from KEFRI and I find that to be a very good example of public-private partnership. The avocado route is definitely a good one to follow.

As Harriet Friedmann and Amber McNair from the University of Toronto explained in one of their books, avocados are considered to be green gold in Mexico. They were so successful that many farmers forsook their usual food crops in favor of avocados. They did so not because of any awareness campaign to grow avocados but because avocados were truly profitable.

You may at this moment be thinking that, ‘but I know so and so who has been growing avocados for years and has nothing to show for her labour.’ To that I would quote the words of Henry Ford that, ‘failure is simply the opportunity to begin again, this time more intelligently.’

In the words of Bwak the environmental writer and poet, intelligent farming is ‘always planting with one eye firmly focused on the market.’

The good news is that a lucrative food market already exists beyond your village, town and country. You just have to tap into it.

In 2014, the United Arab Emirate’s food imports were $100 billion. This number is expected to quadruple to $400 billion in less than ten years. If they remain consistent, Erick and George will undoubtedly partake in this bounty, as should other African youth.

Once they are planted and nurtured, those 8,000 avocado seedlings that are at this moment lying somewhere in Loitoktok will in five years’ time be fully grown avocado trees  that will then enable George and Erick to smile all the way to the bank! Even if the trees end up taking longer time, it is fair to say that before they are 30 or 35, they will be reaping big from their current labors. What makes their particular avocado venture even better is that dozens of youth and women who are part of their Green Front Initiative will also benefit. Since their organization is part of the Climate Smart Agriculture Youth Network that is spread across Africa, other African youth can also learn and draw inspiration from their avocado project.

“We want to plant one million avocado trees by the end of 2019.” George said as we wrapped up our meeting.

“What!” I looked at him like he was crazy.

That night in the comfort of my bed, I realized that it often takes a crazy person to change the world. You have to aim for the stars to reach the moon.

I rest my case. For now. You can reach me on This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

PS

To learn more about Green Front Initiative, you can contact George and Erick on This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

 

Getting Started with Avocado Farming

- With increased demand both locally and internationally, avocado farming in Kenya is seemingly becoming lucrative, consequently attracting increased investment from both small scale farmers and big entities i.e kakuzi, soloplant and oxfarm.

- For quality and high productivity, it is important to do a study of the climatic conditions and soil characteristic (pH and structure). Secondly, the availability of certified fruit seedlings such as Hass and Fuerte which are the common varieties in Kenya. It is recommended to plant seedlings in 2ft by 2ft holes and a spacing of 7m by 4m to ensure development of proper canopies.

- Avocado are not tolerant to water logging therefore well-drained soils is a prerequisite otherwise the seedlings will suffer from root rot, and matured trees will have lower yields. However it is important to irrigate the trees in dry climatic conditions. To ensure the soil is not waterlogged a farmer can dig ridges in the farm which also serves the purpose of water harvesting of runoff water. Application of organic waste matter also improves the soil conditions. Planting trees for windbreak is important to avoid winds that lead to flower abortion, fruit drop and breakage of branches.

- It is estimated if properly managed, avocado trees in the 3rd year fruit begin to fruit, a tree averagely producing 50-100 fruits. The older the tree the more it yields. Quality and productivity can also be increased by installation of beehives in farms (commercial cross-pollination)

Author

Joan Tonui

Joan Tonui

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