Feature: Coffee loses luster as macadamia, avocado take over on central Kenyan farms

Source: Xinhua| 2020-01-15 21:00:49|Editor: huaxia

File photo shows a local farmer attended to avocado tree seedlings in Thika, 40 kilometers northeast of Nairobi, capital of Kenya, Jan. 27, 2014. (Xinhua/Allan Muturi)

Central Kenyan counties shifted to plant avocado and macadamia instead of coffee, which prospects are bright as consumption of the fruit and nuts rises globally from the Americas to Europe and Asia.

NAIROBI, Jan. 15 (Xinhua) -- As one traverses central Kenyan counties that include Muranga, Kirinyaga, Nyeri and Meru, the major shift that is happening on farms in the region is noticeable.

Coffee trees that once dotted the landscape of the region for years are fast disappearing and in their place avocados and macadamia are taking over.

The shift that started years ago has gathered pace as the price of coffee in the international market becomes erratic, with most of the times declining, hurting local farmers.

"I grew up seeing coffee all around me but these days you have to travel for long to find a farm hosting the crop," Andrew Kariuki, a resident of Kirinyaga said in a recent interview.

"People have shifted to avocado and macadamia because there is hope in the new crops. The prices are good and the market is liberalized, unlike coffee where you have to sell through cooperatives."

Fresh avocados sold in a market in Nairobi, capital of Kenya. (Xinhua/Yang Zhen)

Kariuki recalled that he started working on his parents' coffee farm while aged about seven and did so until he completed his secondary schooling.

"During school holidays and weekends, we would head to the farm and pick the berries and deliver to a buyer. I did this with my five brothers and two sisters as our parents relied on family labor to cut costs," he said.

It is from coffee that his parents got income to pay their school fees up to college level and take care of their other basic needs. And this was the story of many families in the regions.

But like many other farmers, Kariuki's parents have uprooted their coffee bushes and replaced them with fast-maturing horticultural crops, such as avocados and macadamia. This is because of the declined income from coffee, the once top income provider.

Data from the Nairobi Coffee Exchange (NCE) shows that in 2019, the price of a 50-kilo bag of coffee ranged from 11,000 shillings (110 U.S. dollars) to 130 dollars, down from a high of 230 dollars two years back.

The drop in prices led to declined earnings for farmers, according to the Coffee Directorate, with farmers' earnings standing at 30 million dollars in the first nine months of 2019. In 2018, earnings stood at 47.7 million dollars, shrinking from over 50 million dollars in 2017.

The fall in earnings has led to a massive decline in production as farmers reduce acreage under the crop and shift to better-paying crops.

On Caroline Karimi's farm in Muranga County stand not only avocado trees but also macadamia from which she harvests the fruits and nuts and sells to various buyers.

She sells the avocado fruits to a company in Nakuru, North West of the capital Nairobi, which buys for the Chinese market. But she also has an option of selling to Kakuzi, a firm in the region that exports the fruits to Europe.

For macadamia, she supplies to Jungle Nuts, a company in the region that buys, processes and exports the nuts.

"Payment is prompt, which is unlike coffee where one has to supply and wait for months before one gets paid," she said.

Besides low prices, the vagaries of climate change that include lengthy dry and cold spells and unpredictable rains have affected coffee growing, heaping high production costs on farmers amid stifled income, making the crop unattractive.

But avocado and macadamia prospects are bright as consumption of the fruit and nuts rises globally from the Americas to Europe and Asia.

Kenya exports up to 50,000 tonnes of avocados a year, with the country trailing only South Africa in the continent.

The Chinese market is also opening up after Kenya and China signed a deal in 2019. The East African nation not only exports Hass avocados to the Asian nation but also mangoes, French beans, peanuts and macadamia.

Avocados are highly nutritious, the reason why their demand has risen globally, said Beatrice Macharia of Growth Point agro-consultancy.

"They are further used in the cosmetic industry and one can extract oil from them, making them a high-value crop," she said.