Kenyan avocados enter more pre-ripening programs in Europe
Long known for its greenskin avocados, Kenya is now moving more into the Hass variety that has captured tastes around the globe at a fast rate. During the Amsterdam Produce Show and Conference earlier this month, www.freshfruitportal.com caught up with the Kenyan delegation to discuss the modernization of avocado export practices, as well as the environment for shipping passion fruit, green beans and sugar snap peas.
"There was a notion some years back that avocados we sent to Europe or other places were not for ripening and eating, but for processing of pharmaceuticals," says Samson Wakibia of Wintechs Merchants.
For traders who have seen the dramatic growth experienced in the avocado category this perception may seem absurd, but that's the issue with supply chains. Not everyone is always on the same page, and the supermarkets of Europe are far from the realities of farming life in the Kenyan countryside.
"The avocado business has grown over the years but currently now we see the gradient is very steep for positive growth; the reason being there is a lot of education that we are doing with our growers and everyone in the supply chain to understand what is required in Europe and what consumers require to consume the fruit," Wakibia says.
"Now we have enlightened all of our growers and handlers that all of the fruit you have here are for eating, and so long as the fruit you are harvesting yourself you can eat, then it is good for export. If you cannot eat it yourself, there is no point harvesting it."
He says Wintechs Merchants is working with companies in the Netherlands, Spain and France to improve the market readiness of the avocados.
"All of them are giving me the reports that they want avocados that can ripen; if they cannot ripen them, then they don't require them. They are ripening first before going to the retailer."
For Wakibia, 100% of his Hass avocado exports go to Europe, while greenskin varieties are mostly sent to the Middle East where they are "very popular".
"And of course there are indigenous varieties we consume locally...the greenskin is very popular at home," he adds.
It is probably a while away yet, but Wakibia would also like to see exports to China, where countries such as Chile, Peru and Mexico all have access.
"The only problem we have as Kenyans is we do not have a phytosanitary agreement with China so we are not yet open to export with China," he says.
"I think there are negotiations government to government, because for us in the private sector we are very ready for the market."
Also at the trade fair was David Maina of Marja General Company, which exports a range of items to Europe including passion fruit, green beans, sugar snap peas and doodhi, also known as the bottle gourd or lauki.
"The passion fruit industry in Kenya has always been very large - countries like Uganda and Tanzania come to Kenya and pick passion fruit because we are one of the biggest growers," Maina says.
"One of the reasons the European market feels like it has more Kenyan passion fruit is that the Europeans are opening up; they are getting to understand there is a fruit called passion fruit and it's not just a juice.
"They understand its health benefits, but instead of getting the final product in the shelves, they get the product as it is and process it."
He says the company does a lot of exports of the tropical fruit to France, the U.K. and the Netherlands, but unfortunately the market is still pretty strict when it comes to appearance, an issue we reported on in September in an interview with Passionfruit Australia chair Tina McPherson.
"We need a lot of education and awareness put out that something which is tasty and sweet doesn’t necessarily have to have the cosmetic look that you put to it. Back home we eat whatever, as long as it tastes good. If it looks good, it’s secondary," Maina says.
He says the fruit is exported via airfreight and cannot be sent by sea, with different requirements to other imported produce items.
"They are not meant for a cold room – they’ve been here [in the Netherlands] for a few days and because of how cold it is, they start shriveling up," he says.
"You need to have them at room temperature – when you put them in a cold room they start shriveling up. But as it is, when it’s room temperature they are perfect."
He says an added benefit in dealing with Kenya for produce imports is most products grow year-round.
"Why? Because our weather is stable. So when it’s raining on one side of the country, on the other side it’s dry," Maina says of his equatorial nation.
"We don’t experience winter or summer or fall or spring - the weather stays pretty much the same. It’s between 16°C (61°F) - and that's pretty cold - and the highest it gets is 28°C (82°F)."
When asked about some of the pesticide-related issues that have plagued Kenya's vegetable exports in recent years, Maina says the system is more under control with an approved list of pesticides from the European Union and the Kenyan Government.
"The Kenyan government undertook that all the products used for spraying have been tested and approved on a list – they have read through it and approved what needs to be approved," Maina says.
"Then when you go to buy as a farmer or exporter, you will buy what is required for that specific product. If it’s not for that specific product you will not be able to get it.
"We adapt to it but secondly the government trains us – we as exporters and growers train the small-scale growers so we make sure everybody knows what’s required of them at any given point."