Are you an avocado farmer or someone thinking of investing in avocado farming? You must be having so many questions running through your head like what is the best variety to plant, how to plant, care, expected yields, and so on. In this blog, we will share some important information that will help you answer your questions and learn a thing or two about avocado farming in Kenya.
There are more than forty avocado varieties in Kenya. The most common variety preferred for export is the Hass and the Fuerte (commonly preferred for processing) varieties. Other commercial varieties in Kenya include G7, G6, Hayes, Ettinger, Tonnage, Puebla, Nebal, Pinkerton, Simmonds, Booth 8, Reed, and Keith. Avocadoes do well in regions that experience an average rainfall range of 1000mm and between 1500-2100 meters above sea level. In Kenya, avocado do well in Meru, Kisii, Kiambu, Nyeri, Muranga and the Mount Kenya region.
Avocado thrive in well drained soils, with a PH of 5.5- 6.5 and adequate water retention qualities. When planting, they should be placed about a meter below the topsoil and both manure and mulch added where the soil has low organic matter. If the soil is waterlogged, the plant may be susceptible to Phytophthora root-rot which limits its chances of survival. Since avocado’s tolerance to salinity is low, a PH above 6.5 is harmful to the plant. In such cases, Gypsum is used to lower the PH.
When preparing land for cultivation, the farmer should consider factors such as the soil type, type and size of the tree, climatic conditions, and the type of farm machinery to be used on the farm. The first cultivation should be deep to ensure fast and better proliferation of roots. Before planting, the farmer should ensure that perennial weeds such as stinging nettle and kikuyu grass are eliminated. A spacing of 9 x 9m should be observed for varieties such as Hass and Fuerte. This means that a hectare will contain 120 plants.
Steps to follow when planting avocado;
- prepare holes of 60 x 60 x 60cm i.e. length x width x height one month prior to the actual planting date.
- Separate sub-soil and top-soil.
- Take a debe (20kg) of Farm Yard Manure (FYM) and 120 g of Double Superphosphate fertilizer (46% P2O5) and mix with the top soil.
- Remove the plant from the container or paper with the soil intact and carefully place it in the center of the hole and cover firmly with the mixture of FYM and top soil
- Make a basin-like hole around the seedling for water holding.
- Water the plant immediately after planting.
- In areas with hot climate, shade the seedling after transplanting.
Before planting avocado, the farmer should bear in mind that;
- Transplanting is more effective when done early in the morning or late in the evening during the rainy season.
- Planting both type A and type B avocado in their orchard will ensure successful cross pollination. Cross pollinated avocado gives higher yields
- Having Beehives in the orchard is highly recommended since bees are major pollinators.
- They should avoid using chemicals that are harmful to bees.
- carrying out a soil analysis before planting helps to determine the soil type, the type of manure to be used and fertilizer needs of the soil used on the farm.
- Avocado requires high volumes of Nitrogen.
- Irrigation should be done when necessary to allow for a spread harvest and increase yields.
- Mulching should be done to prevent moisture loss and increase organic matter to the soil thus promoting avocado growth
- The most preferred mulch for avocado is well-dried grass that is pest-free.
- They should avoid sawdust because upon decomposition, it ties up nitrogen.
- Dry leaves may also be used as mulch
- They should avoid using herbicides.
- Cultivation around trees helps to keep the place weed-free.
- Nipping apical buds of young plants slows down growth and enables the plant to be more compacted.
- Lower branches that interfere with irrigation and other farm activities should also be pruned.
- Heavy pruning should be avoided and should only be done after 12-15 years of bearing to reduce the tree size.
- They can intercrop avocado trees with other crops such as cabbage, kales, peas and beans to maximize on the economic returns of the land.
Avocado trees start bearing fruit 3-4 years after transplanting but the plant yields more from the 6th year. The produce harvesting is peak between July and August. One plant yields 230-320kg per year. The average production per hectare is 7.5-11 tonnes. A grafted avocado tree (3-5 year-old) yields 300-400 kg fruits per hectare while an older tree (5 years and beyond) yields 800- 1000kg fruits i.e. 80 000- 100 000 fruits per hectare.
In Kenya Avocado is harvested between April and September. Because most varieties do not change color on maturity, farmers pick a few fruits and store them in room temperature for 7-10 days to determine if they are ready for harvest. If the fruits soften without wrinkling, the fruit is then considered ready for harvest. When harvesting, the harvesters should avoid pulling the fruit from the stalks, instead they should cut off leaving a 3cm stalk.
To prolong shelf-life, the farmer should observe the following treatment, processing and packaging methods:
Immediately after harvesting, the avocado should be cooled to optimum storage temperatures. For Fuerte and Hass varieties, they should be cooled to optimal temperature of 5oc within 5hours of harvesting.
- Hot water treatment
This procedure is done to kill fungal spores in and on the skin of the fruit. The procedure involves immersing the avocado in heated water with temperatures of about 500c for duration of 3-5 minutes. Fungicides such as Sporta K Brochlura z and Bavistin (Carbendazim) are used to improve the effectiveness of the treatment.
Grading and Packaging
Grading of avocado is done depending on the weight and size of the fruit. Bruised and diseased fruits are removed and the others packed according to the customer specifications. After all foreign particles, soil and debris are removed using a water bath, the quality avocado is packed in 4kg cartons. The water bath water must be treated with a fungicide preferably, Thiabendazole (use 300ml of the fungicide for every 100 liters of water). The water should be changed regularly to avoid cross-contamination. The fruits are then waxed, dried in hot air, and stored in cold storage of around of 50c.
To ensure successful marketing of the avocado, the farmer should ensure;
- that the produce is of the best quality,
- the produce must be well packaged,
- Rapid adaptation of exports to seasonal fluctuations and changing market situations (supply and demand), and
- an intact logistical chain (including proper cooling along the marketing chain and competitive prices)