KENYA – The Directorate of Horticulture has banned all avocado exports following a severe shortage that has raised prices of the fruit to a three-and-a-half-year high.

The average price of a 90-kilogramme bag of avocado shot up to Sh2,560 in December, making it the highest cost of the commodity since May 2014, when a bag was selling for slightly above Sh2,700.

A single avocado is currently selling for between Sh50 and Sh80 in Nairobi’s retail markets, up from between Sh10 and Sh20 each during high season.

The Agriculture and Food Authority (AFA), under which the Directorate of Horticulture falls, attributes the increase in the price of the fruit to the biting shortage of popular varieties, Fuerte and Hass, which are off-season.

“We have stopped the export of Fuerte and Hass varieties because traders would ship out immature crop because of high demand in the world market.

However, we’re going to lift (the ban) starting next month once harvesting starts,” said said AFA director-general Alfred Busolo.

Avocado is highly popular on Kenyans’ dining tables. Most households blend it with other foods or eat it plain.

“The shortage is not only in Kenya, but also globally. This is the reason why the prices have gone up,” added Mr Busolo. The ban on exports was effected in December.

Mr Busolo says the shortage is expected to ease starting next month when the new season crop will start hitting the market.

“Fuerte variety will start getting to the market next month while Hass will be in supply in March, bridging the current deficit and reversing prices to the previous lows,” he said.

The Jumbo avocado variety is currently the only one available in the market.

This variety is always in supply throughout the year but it is not as popular as Fuerte and Hass.

Avocado contributes seven per cent of Kenya’s total fruit export to the global market but production has been static over the years.

Farm production stood at 230,948 tonnes in 2015, rising slightly to 246,057 tonnes in 2016.

About 387.2 tonnes worth Sh5.4 billion was exported in 2016, compared to 461.1 tonnes worth Sh7.1 billion last year as per AFA data.

Foreign investors have been keen on financing the avocado sub-sector in Kenya because of its low-risk investment environment, wide market access, and improved infrastructure.

The Netherlands Trust Fund launched a $1 million project in 2016 to enhance the export competitiveness of the avocado sector in Kenya.

The project’s strategy includes updating the commodity business plan for the avocado sub-sector and increasing the export capacity of exporting SMEs and farmer groups linking them to international buyers.

The horticulture sector is one of the largest sources of foreign exchange earnings in Kenya, bringing in Sh101 billion in 2016.

Business Daily