Kenyan avocado farmer looks to go organic

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Kenyan avocado farmer looks to go organic

A Kenyan farmer is readying his business to export this season’s avocado crop earmarked for European shipment over the coming weeks. Although Wilberforce Ngugi has high expectations from his latest Hass crop,avocados _ on tree _ ffp the Nairobi grower and exporter knows he must do more to compete with larger corporations and South American rivals. We caught up with him as he prepares to start his fruit export schedule for 2014.

Life as an avocado grower and exporter in Nairobi has been challenging for Wilberforce Ngugi who owns and operates Roypack Enterprises.

Tough competition from larger African exporters and low-priced competitors in Peru impacts his profit margins every year. However, 2014 is looking promising for the east African farmer who is taking steps to become a certified fair trade, organic grower.

The new year starts with the export of the second harvest of Hass avocados from the company’s five farms located around the highlands of Nairobi, including an 80-acre site and smaller holdings of around 50 acres each.

The farms have GlobalGap accreditation but Ngugi says he must meet all accreditation requirements over the next two years to continue to be economically viable in Europe.

Ngugi has still managed to secure contracts despite prices being driven down. In mid-February his fruit will be en route to the Netherlands, the U.K., Denmark and France on a shipping schedule that takes 28 days from Mombasa port.

He expects to export around 20% more avocados to Europe than he did last year – 160MT a month from February to August.

Ngugi knows he has to achieve global standardization in order to really compete on a worldwide scale and increase his export volume.

He claims to have the land and plans to increase farm operations throughout 2014. He also intends to grow his workforce from the 50 permanent employees and 200 temporary workers already on his books. This is not an easy task for the farmer but one he’s committed to achieving.

"I have to overcome certain challenges to export to Europe. For me to continue supplying my clients, I have to lower the prices so they are in line with the prices in Peru. This is difficult to balance because of the distance involved in export from Kenya and of course the shipping costs," he says.

"The season and the fruits are going well though and I’m anticipating good production and high volumes. We are busy now and until the end of this export season in August. I’m also looking for new markets and want to certify my avocados (Hass and Fuerte) because most of the markets I want to venture into in Europe demand this."

"The plan is to make sure my company achieves all the global standardization and accreditation required to enable me to ship globally. I will do this over the next two years. It’s an expensive process but I must do it to compete with other suppliers."

The price of Roystock Enterprises’ avocados range from €5 to €6 (US$6.83 to US$8.20) for a four-kilogram carton on a FOB basis but Ngugi says he has to be flexible when negotiating export deals.

"I do a fixed price per carton and sometimes, due to the market situation, I do a minimum price guarantee and this depends on the agreement with the client. There is much to consider for me as a grower and exporter," he says.

"Our avocados are 80% organic and looking at the behavior of global consumers, people are opting to buy organic fruits more than conventional fruit. This is an important year for me. I want to employ more staff, get more accreditation and I anticipate a fair trade certification by the end of the year."


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