Avocado farming has taken Kenya by storm, due to the low maintenance and the ready market, locally and abroad.
The geographical position of Kenya makes it easy to export to Europe, Asia, and China, as compared to other leading Avocado growing countries such as Mexico and other South American countries.
Ease of entry, maintenance, ability to be intercropped with other short term crops and the possibility of harvesting for several years makes it a good long term investment.
The Market for avocado
Kenya produces an estimated 115,000 metric tons of avocado annually, 70% grown by small scale farmers. Hass avocado exports have taken the place of major cash crops with a ready international market for the locals.
Statistics by the International Trade Center show that Kenya is the second-largest exporter of avocados in Africa exporting approximately 52,000 tons of fruit to the international market.
Varieties of Avocado Grown in Kenya
The main varieties you can grow in Kenya are Hass, Fuerte and Puebla.
Hass avocado is the most popular variety for the export market. The trees for this particular breed is semi spreading, and the yield from one tree can go up to 60 fruits on average. You will know it’s ripe when the skin becomes dark and you can serve when the inside is light green.
Fuerte avocado is pear-shaped with skin that is thin and glossy. It’s green with a textured and loose surface which makes it easy for you to peel and eat. It matures in 6-8 months, and you can use it to make guacamole. Fuerte is preferred for the domestic market.
Puebla is dark green. It matures 5-7 months after blossoming and is usually used as a rootstock.
Ecological Requirements for growing avocados
Although avocado is relatively resistant to drought, it needs a well-distributed rainfall of between 1000-1200mm. This is enough for crop development with a two-month drier season for pre-flowering. Most avocados need irrigating. Your plants require about 25 mm of water per week. It would help if your plants also had an optimum temperature of about 20-24 degrees Celsius for sufficient growth.
Moreover, you require well-drained soils to avoid root rot. The best soils are alluvial, sandy or loam soils with pH ranging from 5-7. The Kenyan climate is sunny, the soils are dry and contain proper drainage, suitable habitat for avocado trees.
Avocado Yield Per Acre
Usually, the average return in Kenya is 87,000 fruits per acre. Your three to four-year-old avocado tree yields 300-400 kilograms fruits per acre while a tree older than five years gives you 800- 1000kilogram fruits (80,000-100,000 fruits per acre).
Land Preparation for growing avocado
In case of newly cleared land in Kenya, you are advised to plant an annual crop a year before growing avocados. It will help achieve proper tillage of the cleared land. You also will need a non-selective herbicide to clear the weeds.
Planting holes usually measure about 60cm by 60cm by 60cm. The general spacing for pure stands of avocados is 9m by 9m.
Nursery preparation for avocado
Once you have decided to plant the avocado, you will require a cool temperature of about 15 degrees Celsius at night and a day range of about 25 to 30 degrees Celsius. This is effective for young avocado plants since it causes delayed plant crowding, sturdier plants, and lower night heating costs. Some nurseries prefer a higher temperature for more rapid seedling development.
You can germinate avocado seeds in sawdust or sand, with careful attention to optimum moisture maintenance.
It would be best if you planted the seeds in plastic liners or seed bags about 2.5 by 10 cm with perforated bases for drainage.
Transplanting avocado seedlings
If you see seedlings that show healthy development of both shoot and root, you can transplant it into a suitable soil mixture. Remove from the plastic liner with soil still intact and place it in the center of the already dug hole then cover firmly with a combination of topsoil and farmyard manure.
Transplanting is more successful when you carry out during the long rains either early morning or evening. You have to place the plant in the same depth as it was in the nursery. You will also need to water it immediately after planting.
Diseases affecting avocado
Fungal diseases may attack your avocados grown in Kenya. They include;
Avocado root rot
If you plant avocados in areas with poorly drained soils and flood-prone areas. You will see leaves of infected trees becoming small, usually pale or yellow-green often wilted and fall prematurely. The roots get blackened, decayed and die. Ridomil, active ingredient Metalayl, is a granular chemical formulation you are advised to apply in the soil to fight this disease.
This is a major post-harvest problem when your fruit is at the maturity stage. It attacks the fruit, forming dry, dark brown spots. You may see sunken spots on the fruit and the spots are manifested as a rot, which can penetrate deep into the flesh. You can control using copper-based fungicides.
The fungus readily infects young, succulent tissues of leaves, twigs, and fruits. You will notice lesions appearing as small dark spots, slightly raised, oval to elongate. Fruits are only susceptible when young until about half size development. To control, you can apply similar methods to Anthracnose.
Cercospora leaf and fruit spot
This disease is a problem for the quality of fruits. On infection, you will see lesions appearing as small light-yellow spots on fruits and leaves, and later become reddish-brown and eventually become hard and crack. You can also control this disease using similar methods to Anthracnose.
Pests affecting avocado
In Kenya, avocado production is not adversely affected by pests. The most effective and economical method of pest and disease control for your avocado plant is prevention. Preventive measures that you can administer include, weed control, proper selection of material, proper fertilizer application and maintain optimum plant density.
Some of the major pests that may attack your avocados include fruit flies, false coddling moth, scales, swarming leaf beetles, bugs and spider mites.
Weeds usually compete for growth factors like nutrients and water. They also harbor pests and diseases. You can use the following methods to control weed in your avocado plantation, they include cover cropping, mechanical cultivation, and mulching. You can also use non-selective herbicides to manage all types of weeds in the garden.
After planting your avocados in Kenya, you may intercrop with other crops such as peas, kales, beans, or cabbage during the first three to five years before the trees start producing fruits.
Harvesting and Post-Harvest for avocado
Your avocados are ready for harvesting at 5-10 months after flowering. Kenya Hass Avocados usually flower around October and are ready for harvest between June to September. The flowering period varies according to the variety and the ecological condition of the region. You will need to identify the correct harvesting period. This is important because avocados are harvested raw and ripen off the tree.
If you want an excellent reap, harvest the fruits and keep them in favorable conditions to ripen.
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