David Kamau, a young farmer, spots and seizes a golden opportunity in avocado farming
By Agnes Mbithi
Hass avocados are the new goldmine for enterprising farmers. Indeed, most county governments are encouraging farmers to plant them. This is because Hass avocados do not require a lot of labour and time to produce. They are a new variety of avocados that have been scientifically modified through grafting to notably reduce their maturity period to between two and three years from the average period of six to seven years. Hass avocados can be distinguished by their large round seed and purplish brown colour when ripe. They also have a buttery and creamy texture and a sweet taste. Currently, the demand for avocados in the local and global markets is very high. Our farmers can barely satisfy it.
Venturing into Hass avocado farming has become a lucrative business after the market was regulated. Farmers are now able to sell one avocado at ten shillings locally and thirty in the international market. One hass avocado tree can produce a thousand fruits in a year. The returns are very good. The fruit is also in very high demand due to its nutritional health benefits and wide variety of uses. Avocados are a source of vitamins C, E, K and B6 and contain high levels of healthy, beneficial fats which help a person to feel fuller between meals.Kenya is one of the countries that enjoy equatorial climate. It is favourable for farming hass avocados.
Kiambu is one of the counties where farming of hass avocados has succeeded. One of the avocado farmers from the populous county is David Kamau. A young university graduate in human resource, Kamau hails from Gituamba. He recently planted Hass avocados in his farm. He also farms maize. “I did not want to stay idle after my graduation and that is why I opted to venture into agribusiness,” he says adding that getting a formal job in the country is an uphill task since the number of graduates is very high.
He decided to farm avocados due to their high demand and good returns in the market. “Since they mature fast, I was assured of getting a return on my investment after only two to three years,” he says adding that besides the local market, he was assured of selling his fruits at the international market at better prices. His seed capital was from some savings he had made after being paid for a part time job during his long vacation. Kamau further says Hass avocados bear fruits twice in a year hence it is profitable to farm them.
According to Kamau, before venturing into Hass avocado farming, you need to have a piece of land. Secondly, you need capital to purchase the seedlings. “One seedling goes for about a hundred and fifty shillings and we don’t get them from within we buy them at Thika from growers,” states Kamau. After purchasing the seedlings, the other important things are the soil and manure. The ideal soil for the Hass avocado plant is loose and loamy, with a pH value of not higher than 6.5. The drainage capacity of the soil is critical, as the roots are close to the surface and are sensitive. Therefore, if there is excess moisture, then your Hass avocado is likely to suffer from root rot. Ample supply of water is a key driver in farming and the first few months are crucial. “You’ll need to water your Hass avocado plant daily or after three days for the first few weeks and then twice weekly for the next few months so that its roots can be well nourished,” explains Kamau.
He further states that in cases when the weather is too hot or dry, the plants need to be watered on a daily basis. Before watering, you need to make sure the soil isn’t already very moist and as the tree grows older you can reduce watering to once a week. In order for the tree to thrive, it needs zinc and boron. A farmer can tell if the plant has a zinc deficiency because of yellow patches that appear on the leaves. One year after planting, you need to fertilize your plant by spraying every month. Lastly, Hass avocado trees require pruning in order to remove broken limbs, to maintain the tree’s height or to refine its shape. “In our farm, after some few months we often have specialists who come because of pruning and also to check if they are growing into good shape,” he says. The other key aspect one should consider states Kamau is security. Since the seedlings are on high demand, one may have to fence his or her farm to avoid passersby who might uproot them either for personal use, or for sale.
According to Mr. Kamau, the biggest challenge is that Hass avocado trees are attacked by various pests and diseases. “Recently, there was an invasion of locusts in our farm which ate the leaves of the avocado trees,” he says. Some diseases are caused by watering which leads to the roots rotting. In order to prevent that, one must ensure that the soil in the farm has excellent drainage in order to keep the trees dry. “There are some common pests that disturb Hass avocado trees including avocado mites and avocado brown mites and you can prevent this by spraying herbicides or using neem oil,” he advises. Another challenge has been rogue villagers who steal his avocado seedlings to plant in their farms or sell to unsuspecting farmers. “To avoid trespassers, one should fence his farm,” he advises.
Advice to the youth
Kamau is a great example to the youth who maybe keen on being entrepreneurs in agribusiness. “There is no harm in trying out new ideas,” he says adding that by so doing, one learns a lot. Further he urges the youth to save (even if they are not earning a lot of money) and then invest the same in business. “There is no harm in starting a business in a small way, before scaling it up with time,” he observes. In the same vein, he advises young entrepreneurs to be fully committed in their ventures so that they can bear fruits.