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With 322 avocado trees, I cannot go back to coffee

Saturday March 29 2014

Maina Karuiru tends to his avocado trees in his farm in Mathira. PHOTO | JOSEPH KANYI

Maina Karuiru tends to his avocado trees in his farm in Mathira. PHOTO | JOSEPH KANYI NATION MEDIA GROUP

STELLAR MURUMBA
By STELLAR MURUMBA
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The farm resembles a magnificent rainforest from afar, with huge lush-green trees neatly growing in straight lines.

Attention shifts to dozens of pear-shaped green and brown fruits hanging loosely from the branches of the trees as one nears the farm.

“Some of the fruits are ripe, others are not, but I will be harvesting in the next few days,” says Maina Karuiru, the owner of the farm located in Mathira, Nyeri County.

Karuiru is an avocado farmer, who is exporting the fruits to Europe. He has been growing avocados since 2006 after switching from coffee.

“I shifted to avocado after the coffee industry became shaky. I cannot regret having moved since some of my colleagues who stuck to coffee are facing numerous challenges that have made the industry lose its lustre.”

The farmer recalls the good old days when he was growing coffee.

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“We used to make good money in 1980s, but prices of coffee have dropped greatly on the international market. Coffee farmers are not making much,” Karuiru tells Seeds of Gold.

To switch to avocados, the farmer uprooted over 500 coffee trees.

“I had been in the horticultural industry for over 15 years. I knew what could make money and I convinced my mother. Neighbours thought it was not a smart move.”

Karuiru grows the Hass Export variety of avocados, which he mainly sells overseas. When he started, he planted 100 avocado trees.

“I bought seedlings from a friend. I increased the number to 222 in the second year. Right now they are 322,” says Karuiru of the trees spread on a three-acre farm.

He says that unlike coffee, avocado farming is profitable yet it requires minimal maintenance.

“The seedlings should be planted during the rainy season for better growth. The spacing between the trees should be seven by seven metres. If the trees are not well-spaced, the canopies will overlap and yields will fail.”

LESS TIME TO DECOMPOSE

During planting, the holes should be filled with about five kilos of manure and one can later add DAP fertiliser for better growth. “I use goat droppings for manure as they take less time to decompose as compared to cow dung,” he says.

He harvests 600 fruits from each tree annually—equivalent to between 100 kilos and 150 kilos of fruits.

The food quality consultant and a one-time technical director of Kenya Horticulture Exporters Association, made Sh300,000 in every quarter of the year from exports.

A fruit fetches an average of Sh10 in the export market. The fruits are mainly sold in Middle East, South Arabia, France, Holland and Germany.

“France and Holland are my main markets. I supply directly to the markets about 20 tonnes of avocados,” he says.

This year, he expects to export 12 to 14 tonnes to different countries, which will fetch him at least Sh500,000 every three months.

Karuiru hopes to start producing avocado seedlings to meet the high demand from farmers seeking to grow the crop. “I have an order of 5,000 seedlings that I cannot meet. Each seedling goes for Sh200.”

WHAT YOU DID NOT KNOW ABOUT AVOCADOS

  • An avocado has more potassium than any other fruit. A single fruit has 975mg of potassium, which is double that offered by bananas.
  • The fruits are high in protein. A single avocado has 4gm of protein, which is higher than that in other fruits.
  • Avocados ripen more quickly when placed with bananas or apples. This is because the two fruits release ethylene gas, which helps green avocados ripen rapidly.
  • Antioxidants, amino acids and essential oils in avocado repair damaged hair, keep skin moisturised and minimise wrinkles.