Ensure quality of avocado exports for sustainability

Friday, May 21st, 2021 00:00 |
Avocado fruit. Photo/Courtesy

While explaining the origins of trade, Yuval Noah Harari, in his book Sapiens, opines that when people living together in villages realised they were good at making one product — say wine — they decided to specialise in the hope of exchanging their goods with other villages that specialised in producing something else, say apples.

Due to specialisation, he argues, people started to focus more on producing quality goods to get better returns.

In today’s world, quality of products and services is a key part of both local and international trade, with customers demanding high quality goods at the best prices possible.

In a world characterised by competition to win over loyalty of customers, producers do not have the luxury of cutting corners especially with regard to quality assurance.

This is a reality Kenyan producers, manufacturers and exporters ought to bear in mind, first, because poor quality poses a reputation risk to private companies as well as the country.

It is especially important to ensure the goods Kenyan companies export are of high quality to ensure market sustainability.

This is in addition to earning Kenya the foreign exchange it needs to improve its balance of trade, which is something we all need to work on if we are to make the transition from a low to a middle-income economy.

Kenya remains a leading exporter of agricultural produce and the sector is one of our largest employers.

This is why we should start with quality assurance for both local and export market.

Already, some sub-sectors such as flower farms have put in place systems to ensure quality, such as the ability to trace a rose stem to its greenhouse of origin or the requirement that flowers be grown without using pesticides.

The next frontier ought to be avocado exports, considering that this fruit has emerged as a leading source of revenue for farmers, exporters and the country, too.

According to government estimates, income from avocado accounts for half of all revenues from fruit exports.

Similarly, the volume of avocado that Kenya has been exporting has been on a steady increase, meaning there is potential to boost it even further with better quality assurance systems, mechanisms and policies.

Last month, the Horticulture Directorate reported that Kenya had earned Sh4.6 billion between January and March from avocado exports, which hit 26,481 tonnes in that period.

Indeed, Kenya is ranked as the eighth largest exporter of avocado globally and probably leads Africa in that respect.

All this is encouraging news. It means farmers are earning more and there are opportunities for agro-processing because the fruits have to be processed and frozen before they are shipped out.

However, there is need to ensure exporters — especially middlemen in the supply chain — do not expose Kenya to reputation risk by exporting premature fruits. Farmers are worried that unless checked, this trend could diminish the competitiveness of fruits from Kenya.

This has been a double-edged sword. On the one hand, middlemen buy every fruit they find in farms — meaning that farmers earn more every time they harvest; and on the other hand, all the fruits, including those that are not ready for harvesting, are being sold, including in export markets. The probability of such fruits going bad once they are placed in supermarkets abroad is high.

There is a risk that after some time, consumers will start associating the bad fruit with the source market; and this is why government agencies ought to intervene in good time.

Kenya has many competitive advantages. Two months ago, the State department for trade and enterprise development was beseeching citizens to export bananas and broccoli to South Korea.

This is a hungry market that is ready to buy from Kenyan producers. However, for us to make a good impression now and in future, it is critical that we sell our best products there.

It is not sufficient to ship out every available banana in our farms. This is an opportunity to make a statement of quality. 

If anything, quality should be our biggest value proposition to global markets.

It is what will sustain demand for Kenyan exports and boost our country’s reputation as a source of the best produce.

That is why it is important to get it right, not just with avocados but with all goods. — The writer is a Partner and Head of Content at House of Romford — [email protected]

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