When Michael Wangombe went to Canada for a benchmarking trip, little did he know that the tour would mark his journey towards becoming an avocado farmer.
“I visited Canada and I was shocked when I saw an avocado fruit selling at Sh200,” says Mr Wang’ombe said as he adjusted a trap to keep pests on the leaves and fruits at bay.
The 45-year-old farmer is turning his one-acre farm into a successful avocado venture.
“The trip to Canada was an eye opener as I have come to realise how precious avocado fruit is,” he told Seeds of Gold on Saturday.
“The export market is expanding by the day and with the rising demand for avocados in China, local farmers have their work cut out,” said Mr Wang’ombe.
Mr Wang’ombe’s trees in Turi, Elburgon, are at the fruiting stage and he hopes that nothing goes wrong before he harvests.
Prior to venturing into avocado farming, Mr Wang’ombe abandoned growing maize and took a leap of faith to specialise in growing the Hass avocado variety, which he intercrops with beans to earn more from the venture.
“I was advised by extension officers to intercrop my avocado trees with beans or peas as they help in boosting nitrogen in the soil and makes it a fertile for my avocados,” says Mr Wang’ombe.
The father of four has also invested in grafted seedlings which he sells at Sh100 each.
“I decided to venture in fruit farming about seven years ago after earning peanuts from growing maize for several years.”
“I earned about Sh50,000 from labour intensive maize farming,” he adds.
But that is now history. In his one-acre farm, he has about 200 Hass avocado trees, some of which are already earning him good returns.
“In my first harvest, I sold fruits worth Sh60,000 at Sh10 each to traders from Nakuru, Molo and Elburgon. There is guaranteed income in this business of the fruits as long as one has reliable market.”
The former ward representative reveals that his income would have been higher were it not for the drought that affected some fruits.
His seedlings business also earns him good money. Mr Wang’ombe has 3,000 seedlings, which he sells at Sh100 each.
“With the onset of April rains, many farmers have placed orders and all these seedlings will earn me Sh300,000,” he adds.
He learned the trade after attending training at Kakuzi in Thika and several farm clinics.
“I remember in one farm clinic where I was trained on how to trim the Fuerte trees and graft them with the Hass tree and this is one valuable lesson I use in my farming,” he adds.
He reveals that his seed capital was Sh50,000 when he bought 80 Hass avocado seedlings and planted them but due to drought he lost 28 seedlings.
He says grafting is the most critical stage and he ensures both the stock and the scion are disease-free.
“I then fit together the cut surfaces of the scion and stock and tie them tightly with a piece of cloth and cover them well with a polythene sheet to prevent harmful infections from bacteria or fungi, and loss of water and plant sap,” he explains.
Mr Wang’ombe says aphids are among the pests that attack avocado and to address the challenge, he sprays his fruits and uses traps to keep other insects at bay
He says he has no regrets for abandoning maize farming.
“The main advantage of avocado is that while maize you harvest one season, avocado I harvest at least four times.”
His biggest challenge, however, is theft of ripe fruits.
“Sometimes when the fruits are ripe, thieves strike and steal them,” he says.
Mr Joseph Gaturuku, Nakuru County horticultural officer, says avocados should not be planted in an area that has other trees with deep roots.
“Avocado roots are prone to diseases and if the seedlings are planted in an area that had trees with deep roots they could spread diseases and kill the seedlings,” he says.
He adds that soil testing before planting is crucial and two samples, one from top soil and sub soil must be tested so that farmers can be advised on which fertilisers to use to fix minerals in the soil.