Karakuta Farm, Scaling Great Heights In Hass Avocado Farming

Karakuta Farm, Scaling Great Heights In Hass Avocado Farming

By Steven Mulanda

Grace Ngungi left employment to venture into Hass avocado farming and later on to an array of herbs. Three years down the line she has become a large scale avocado farmer, mentored many into the fruit farming and last year she was awarded as the Outstanding Woman of the Year 2021 by the Avocado Society of Kenya. The award is given to the deserving individuals for their exemplary contributions in shaping avocado farming in Kenya.

Grace is the CEO of Karakuta Fresh Farm in Man’gu, north of Nairobi. Her journey is a fascinating story inspired in the 80’s by her father who used to grow coffee and later shifted to growing Washington oranges and mangoes af-ter paying homage to Israel.This was an eye opener as she was able to experience how their family income transi-tioned to a middle income and they were able to attend good schools. After long period of being employed, she felt her time was ripe to come out and after researching, visiting several farmers she found herself in avocado farming.

“How I transitioned from employment to farming is a story of following one’s passion. I went through a period I was feeling out of place and had the burning desires of doing my own things while taking charge of my own life. I did a 3-year plan and I told myself I need to step out when I have a cushion and I am earning an income already. We cleared the coffee bushes, set up the nursery and planted the Hass seedlings but the desire was so strong that I quitted employment in the second year of the plan. It dawned on me that the trees needed 3 to 4 years to start earning me income or to have attained maturity levels to give a sizeable produce that translates to good money. I had plunged all my savings in establishment of the orchard, so I asked myself what do that will generate income to run the operational costs of the farm.We did short, medium and long term plan and herbs cultivation came in handy,” she authoritatively revealed.
Herbs in the European market are loved a great deal, for example Basil herbs are consumed raw in salads. Asians on the other hand are consuming significant amounts of fresh herbs on caprese salads and in pesto as a regular condiment to accompany many Italian main dishes. With this in mind, herbs’ farming is a viable business.

Karakuta Fresh Farm currently runs a total of 170 acres which is part of 1000 acres’ family farm, in production of av-ocados with a section of the farm under Basil herbs being cultivated in greenhouses and Thyme, Rosemary and sage herbs being intercropped with avocados. Overall they have planted over 20,000 Hass Avocado trees at differ-ent stages. The farm is Global-Gap and Kenya-GAP certified, which ensures they produce quality products for cus-tomers, with a guarantee of safety whether on pesticides or issues such as GMO and diseases. They are environ-mental conscious and take good care of their workers.

Initially, they had set up their own nursery because they required 10, 000 seedlings for their first planting. Seed raising wasn’t their area of specialization and they were duped by a grafter who did a shoddy work and later took off. Out of the first planted seedlings, only 3,000 managed to survive. Another setback was antelopes which were feeding on her tender seedlings.
The farm later contracted Isinya Roses for credible 1-year-old Hass seedlings which when they planted, the success rate was almost 99 percent. Out of this experience, Grace advocates for farmers to buy quality seedlings which they know where the scions have been sourced from to avoid getting retarded plants and wasting 3 years of waiting.

Production of good Hass avocados fit for the export market begins with the feeding system. “After 2 years or so tending to the crop, the next question is how to make the tree yield more. This is affected by how you properly feed the plant and timing.There is a time last year we missed the season; a time we were supposed to be giving the trees a lot of nutrients because it was producing buds that become fruits. The number of fruits depend on how well the tree is fed, so we missed the season and by the time we were putting all those nutrients it was too late.We needed to understand what type of ingredients the trees needed at the time the tree were budding so as to get quality in terms of size and texture as well as quantity. There are few places you will go and farmers under-stand the cycle; when to apply foliar, the time to apply CAN, Ions, Borons and calcium,” Grace narrates.

Avocados require a lot of micro-nutrients and energy to support the flowering process and to hold the fruits. “At this stage they are undergoing a lot of metabolic activities and Boron is the first foliar fertilizer that should be ap-plied. It is essential in ensuring that when fertilization of the flowers happen they do not abort. Without application of the foliar, the trees tend to abort frequently especially when they lack or not applied at the required rate. Calci-um is another element that is to be applied, just like human beings, it is important for cell multiplication which en-sures production of more fruits which are healthier. For quicker uptake, the fertilizers should be applied at the canopy area where the hair roots are as opposed to applying at the root, though some products are applied at the roots through drenching. Next is applying foliar rich in potassium, this is vital for the texture and the size of fruits. Hass avocados fruits generally don’t grow too big but if fed well it is possible to achieve big sizes,” she elaborated.

Another major lesson they have learnt is in planting the avocados. Most farms in Kenya, plant avocado like banana and leave the planting holes open, this should not be so for the root system is susceptible to coldness which cause retardation and root rots. When planted raised from the ground the root system is very vibrant and they tend to grow faster. In regard to spacing, in some blocks they have done 7 meters between the plants and 8 meters be-tween the rows and in other blocks they spaced 4 by 4 meters but eventually during the 6th year they will cut down the trees to have 8 by 8 meters spacing.

Hass avocado is one of the major export crops from Kenya that is taking the country on the global map of great-ness. It is a fascinating venture, unfortunately there are exporters who are ruining the name of the country by ex-porting immature fruits, which don’t ripen but blackens. Horticultural Crops Directorate is doing its best by putting caveat on when farmers should harvest their avocadoes.

Ngugi has on various occasions attended the Fruit Logistica Conference in Berlin, Germany and when interacting with buyers, the clarion call has been the need to produce quality fruits and consistency. This made her farm em-bark on developing their avocadoes into a global brand marked by quantity, consistency andquality. One of the ropes of trade she has learnt is to delay in harvesting her avocados such that her produce gets to the market when the season is elapsing. The prices by this time are usually rewarding.

Karakuta Fresh Farm, works with women groups whom they train and mentor by giving them seedlings to plant. Moreover, part of their avocado orchard has been donated to the women to grow beans which are nitrogen fixers to the soil while taking care of the trees. Besides women, the farm trains individuals and groups on crop husbandry atan affordable fee.

In the recent past as witnessed by Grace and several avocado farmers she interacts with, there is emergency of a new pest similar to the melon fly which is biting avocado fruits creating room for infestation by False Codling Moth(FCM). They usually attack at the tender stages before the shell of the fruit hardens. They are controlling these flies using traps.

“One of the fears I would wish to allay is that avocado business will turn out to be like the abandoned, quail busi-ness that boomed for a time in Kenya. Unfortunately, there were no well to do farmers who invested in quail; it was only hyped by the media, mostly was carried in rural areas and none was for export market. If you want to know where the world is heading to, look at what the ‘big boys’ are doing, they have planted hundreds of hass avocado acres especially in Uasin Gishu County since they are privy to information,” she advised.

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