Hass avocado popularly referred to as green gold in the farming circles has rapidly gained popularity in Kenya due to high global demand. It has become an agribusiness choice for many large and small scale farmers, thanks to its adaptability to different climates.
Uniroi Farm in Gilgil, Nakuru County is one of the farms in dry area but resembles a magnificent rain forest from a far, with huge lush green trees growing neatly in straight lines. As we near the farm, the attention shifts to the dozens of pear shaped green and brown fruits hanging loosely from the branches of the over 1,000 trees growing on his land.
“Some of the fruits are ready and being harvested, others are not, but I will be harvesting them in the next few days to come,” says Martin Gathogo.He is a Hass avocado farmer, who is exporting the fruits to Europe and Middle East Countries. He has been growing avocados and other fruits such as; mangos, vegetables as well as apiculture, since 20017. This is a story of a go getter person who has defied all odds in life to become a success story worth emulating.
Moreover, Gathogo has received accolades for his exemplary farming. In 2018, he was awarded by the Ministry of Agriculture a Bronze Medal after emerging 3rd countrywide in the National Farmers award competition in the small scale fully commercialized category. In the same year, he was feted during the World Food Day Celebrations for contributing towards the achievement of Zero hunger in Kenya by 2030.
According to the farmer, after clearing school, he searched for a job to no avail and the only hope he had then was to align himself to one of his cousins who was farmer. After working with him for a while, he saw the potential farming had and he decided to give it a try.
“It is an interesting farming journey. After school, life was literary tough, sometimes the hardships that life offers in one way or the other drives one to destiny. To me I was just destined to be a farmer. I began by planting tomatoes on 50*100 plot and after the sales from the produce I was mesmerized by the returns I got. I increased to a quarter an acre, then gradually to half an acre and then 1 acre. My cousin who introduced me to farming quitted and decided to pursue other exciting business opportunities and he left me with a 10 acre piece of land, I tilled it for quit sometime and eventually managed to increase to more than 25acres all of which I bought from the proceeds of farming,” he explained.
While following up the market trends; he narrates he stumbled upon Hass avocado farming and discovered that farmers in avocado were making big money. Unlike vegetable farming, avocado farming is one enterprise that does not require too much attention and once mature a farmer is guaranteed continuous harvest for many years.” For vegetable farming, you have to continuously plant to be guaranteed a harvest; in addition the market is characterized with so many uncertainties that are beyond control. There are issues of market glut, low prices and also the middlemen who take advantage of the poor farmers sweat,” Gathogo stated.
The production of good quality avocado fit for export market is dependent on various factors including high adherence to International Food Safety Standards (IFSS). Responding to the question on how he manages to comply with these stringent Food Safety Standards, “We really follow the procedures and the good agricultural practices. We have the Kenyan Gap and Global Gap and there are a lot of audits that are usually done by the Government agencies especially to farmers who are venturing in the export market and we have strived hard to fit into all these,” he said. “Other activities he does are; proper record keeping of activities done on the farm; adhering to good agricultural practices; use of integrated pest management system to control pests and diseases and where chemicals are used, they should be those that are registered; ensuring fruits attain correct maturity levels before being harvested and adhering to hygiene during harvesting, hence meeting food safety standards,” he continued
Kephis, on the other hand, needs farmers to meet Phytosanitary requirements that include fruits are free of pests and diseases and integrated pest management systems to control pests and diseases.
The climate of the area is harsh with extreme sunlight and for avocados to do well; they frequently irrigate them with borehole water. “The secret is to avoid flooding water around the avocado trees which in the end will wither. When we began farming avocados, we sourced seedlings from Central Kenya but discovered that the seedlings used to wither due to the adaptability issues. We started grafting our own seedlings which end up doing extremely marvelous meaning they adapted to the environment while still young,” Gathogo explained.
His farming escapades have seen him visit Israel and Middle East countries to learn more on avocado farming.
Gathogo advises those willing to join avocado farming bandwagon to consider beginning small, have a passion for farming and utilize every space they have to achieve the best.
Farming to him is a calling and avocation because it has transformed him, his family as well as the lives of his workers. Hass Avocado is the new goldmine for modern farmers. County governments are insisting on Hass Avocado farming. Most of the county governments are encouraging farmers to plant avocados. This is so because Hass avocado does not require much labor and time to maintain. In addition, demand for avocado is extremely high and we just can’t satisfy the current local demand and in European countries.