Patrick Karanja is a smallscale farmer in Murang’a district, Central Kenya. In the late 90’s, he uprooted over 100 coffee trees from his four acres of land in a bid to raise his income by growing avocadoes. From a first five trees, he now owns 25, selling the fruit to Sunripe, a private horticultural company that exports them to the European Union.
He is now one of hundreds of Kenyan small scale farmers enjoying a market that is growing at more than 20 per cent a year, at ever higher prices.
For Karanja, the changeover has paid in other ways too:“In between my avocado trees I grow sweet potatoes, maize and beans, something that I couldn’t do while growing coffee because the coffee trees would drain all the nutrients, so these other food crops wouldn’t grow optimally,” he says.
But the greatest bonus has been the take-off in the avocado market itself, both abroad and locally, that has lifted prices per fruit from Sh1 to Sh6 each.
Africa’s wild fruits, from Baobab fruit and Tree Grapes to Tamarindus and wild plums, are emerging as serious crops, spawning commercialisation and supporting hundreds of farmers in arid and semi arid areas, after long being left as no more than feed for livestock, wild animals and birds.
The indigenous fruits, say scientists, are native to Africa, where they originated and have evolved over centuries, as opposed to exotic fruits, such as citrus and even mango, which have been imported from other continents.
“Mango particularly is common across much of Africa, but actually originated in Southeast Asia. Indigenous trees, such as Marula, Baobab, African Plum, are mostly found wild, although some are now planted, but they all evolved in the African environment,” said Victor Theuri from Bridgenet Africa.
Farmers from the lower end of Eastern Province and the semi arid Kieni district of Central Kenya are among those now domesticating and commercializing the wild fruits in ventures ranging from value addition, drying them for use during “hungry months”, and selling the seeds to other agropreneurs keen on investing in the wild fruits.
The fruits from the giant Baobab tree, Tree Grapes, and the avocado-like fruit sometimes called an Afrocado or Tamarindus, are all highly nutritious, being rich in proteins and carbohydrates, calcium, phosphorous and iron, and readily available in Kenya.
Farmers are pounding Baobab fruits in a mortar, then drying them in the sun to produce a powder. The ‘flour’ is then mixed with water and a little sugar and eaten raw. They have begun selling this flour in Makueni and Kitui districts for Sh5 to Sh10 a cup. The Baobab tree is also producing fibre that is being used to make ropes sold locally.
The potential of the fruits has now seen researchers swing into action, collaborating with farmers and benefiting from indigenous knowledge.
The Kenya Forestry Research Institute (KEFRI), one such institution, has already pitched tent in Eastern province in a bid to teach farmers better ways of collecting and domesticating indigenous fruits and how to break dormancy of the seeds so that they can grow trees easily, which mature early. With some of the seeds taking a long time to grow or failing to grow at all, scientists are even developing new ways of breaking dormancy for easy propagation.
KEFRI field days have also been teaching farmers value addition processes like making jam and juice from Baobab, Vitex payos and Tamarindus. “Although the locals have information about the indigenous fruits, they need to be empowered with scientific knowledge so they can exploit the fruits fully for domestic and commercial purposes,” said Pauline, a scientist with KEFRI.
Nurseries are also being set up to domesticate and cultivate the fruit tree seeds to save farmers traveling long distances to source them. Once seedlings have been raised in the nurseries they are being replanted in community plots or on individual farms.
In Kieni, where the wild fruits project was first introduced by University of Nairobi College of Agriculture scientists in 2000, there were two farmer-run nurseries, but there are now several hundred such nurseries across the country. Many are independent businesses, making significant profits and providing enough trees to transform the lives of tens of thousands of rural families.
Zachary Mbau has been selling the seedlings to buyers from coming as far as the peri-urban areas of Nyeri and Sagana. The 40-year-old farmer also supplies the fruits in the local Kieni market earning from Sh3000 to Sh4000 for the 10 kgs of the fruits that he typically sells. “And this is not counting the others that I sell to exporting companies who pick them at even a higher price. For a kilo of Tamarindus they buy at Sh1,000 and I manage to supply them with only five kilos, because I can’t meet the demand,” said Mbau.
In the same district, a group of young farmers last year set up a wild fruit tree nursery that has attracted over 1500 people and made seedling sales of over Sh100,000 in its first year. Each seedling sells for between Sh30 and Sh100.
Scientists are now urging farmers to explore even more avenues, arguing that there are over 3,000 species of wild fruit trees, with only a fraction of them domesticated. If these resources are not now developed, large-scale deforestation and unpredictable weather patterns could rob the continent of much of this potential.
“Most indigenous fruit trees are not yet domesticated, so these species provide an important source of genetic diversity, which is vital for preserving characteristics that are well adapted to local conditions. If these trees are not protected, this important genetic information – and the indigenous knowledge that has been passed on for generations – will be lost,” said Mr Theuri.
Elsewhere in Africa, Zambian farmers have domesticated a wild fruit called uapaca kirkiana which makes the ‘musuku’ wine that is a favourite in the country. They are selling the fruit to a local brewery, which is providing transport for collection.
Novella, a public-private partnership involving, among others, Unilever, the World Agroforestry Center and the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) is likewise promoting promotes the domestication of Allanblackia, a group of trees whose seeds contain oil perfect for making margarine. This project has already drawn over 10,000 farmers in Ghana and Tanzania with the hope of increasing the number to 200,000 farmers growing 25 million Allanblackia trees within a decade.
The project projects that the trees could earn as much as $2 billion a year, which is half the annual value of West Africa's most important agricultural export, cocoa.
Written by Bob Koigi for African Laughter
Throughout mankind’s history, civilizations have always used the produce of the earth to make medicines and cosmetics. The Ancient Egyptians, Aztecs, Greeks and many others helped pave the way for the cosmetics of today.Cleopatra herself experimented with bathing in asses’ milk.
Not only has the path led us to artificial ingredients such as isopropyl myristate, cetrimonium chloride and even methylchloroisothiazolinone, but it has also kept alive the use of natural ingredients which often prove superior to their synthetic clones. For example, shampoos containing jojoba, pomegranate, aloe vera and hundreds of other combinations of fruits and flowers still fill the shelves of supermarkets across the globe.
The supermarket isn’t the only place to find foods for skins and beauty. The Stilton Cheese Makers Association (SCMA) in the UK has concocted a “fruity and earthy” cheese based perfume named ‘Eau de Stilton’. Not to be out done by the British, a brewery from the Czech Republic called Chodovar offers beer massages designed to increase blood circulation and encourage heart activity, all the while bathing your skin in protein and vitamin B to promote skin regeneration.
But although some companies appear to have taken their ideas too far, others have their feet firmly on the ground. In 2003, commercial behemoths Nestle and L’Oreal formed a branch called Inneov, which develops cosmetics with foods. Other brands, including Chanel and Estee Lauder, have also developed food based cosmetics which regularly retail for over $35 (nearly Sh3000) including a tanning lotion from white lily extract.
Clairol’s Herbal Essences has likewise drawn on fruits and flowers as ingredients for over a decade, appealing to consumers’ desire to be bathed in exotic fruits from tropical lands with a broad range of natural ingredients including pineapples, coconuts, and oranges.
All of these products are applied directly in the form of lotions and soaps, but others may be eaten instead. The market known as nutricosmetics was valued at around $1 billion in 2006 by Kline and Company, and predicted to have doubled by 2011.
Nutricosmetics involves manufacturing foods and drinks with properties that support skin growth and regeneration. The food ingredients are often similar to those used in cosmetics, including the so-called ‘Superfruits’, like strawberries, which contain anti-oxidants to burn excess fats and reduce signs of aging. Vitamin C is also sought after for its similar properties to anti-oxidants and for its role in maintaining the immune system.
Brands often claim the individual fruits used in their cosmetics will have different health benefits to the consumer; nutrient rich almonds will strengthen hair, pomegranate is used to fight dandruff, teas (especially green tea) will protect and repair skin, which is why it is used in sun lotions and for cancer patients who’ve undergone chemotherapy.
More locally, Uganda’s Nilcota Shea butter “is the purest cosmetic you can use on your skin” claims the Northern Uganda Shea Processors Association (NUSPA), and, among other things, will reduce fine lines and wrinkles and promote healing of minor wounds, burns and abrasions.
For Kenya, which exports 450,000 tonnes of horticultural produce a year to European markets, the fruits, vegetables and flowers it dispatches are the very ingredients that many cosmetic companies are importing, including avocados, mangos, pineapples.
But produce which isn’t so commonly exported, including guava, grapefruit, and coconut, is also in demand from companies such as Unilever and L’Oreal.
For many agropreneurs now entering the Kenyan market, however, the greatest opportunity lies not in selling produce whole for the nutrition industry, but in processing it in Kenya, extracting the zests and oils to add value and achieve greater profits locally from the rising interest of the cosmetics industry in foods.
By Andrew Taylor
“The market prices for avocado have been going up for the last five years and trust me this is the fruit to watch,” says Ms Esther Wangari, the general manager of Olivado Kenya (EPZ) Ltd, an avocado processing company from New Zealand that four years ago established its East African base in Nairobi to buy fruit from farmers for processing into oil.
However, building its supplies has meant encouraging many farmers into a new variety of avocado.
Since the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (KARI) introduced the fruit in Central Kenya in the late 70’s the country has grown just two varieties.
Hass, a warty, medium sized, roundish fruit that turns purple at full maturity, has a tough, pebbly skin, with an impressive shelf life. Fuerte, a Mexican-Guatemalan hybrid is a shiny-green, pear-shaped fruit that weighs 250 to 450 g with high oil content.
More than four fifths of the trees in Kenya are Fuerte, which was in high demand in the late 1970s and early 1980s when most farmers were establishing their orchards.
But market trends now favour Hass, with horticultural companies like Olivado Kenya and KARI encouraging farmers to plant Hass or invest in grafting services that change Fuerte into Hass.
However, across both types of avocado the market is growing.
Local consumption is rising, now to 1-2 kg per person annually, driven by consumers’ growing awareness of the fruit’s high nutritional value.
And Afriganics East Africa, a leading exporter of East African fruits and vegetables, reports that 2500 tonnes of avocadoes were exported in 2009, compared with 1800 tonnes in 2008. This saw the fruit move to account for more than a sixth of the country’s entire horticultural exports, the company claims.
It is a surge in sales that has been ascribed in part to the increased online marketing of Kenyan avocado crops. But it has also been aided by new and expanding uses for the fruit, with rising demand for avocado oil from the cosmetics industry, largely in France and Germany, for cleansing creams, moisturizers, skin care products, hair conditioners, lipstick, sun lotions, bath oils and makeup bases.
Kenya has gained particularly from this new market as one of the few leading worldwide avocado exporters based in Africa. Moreover, 85 percent of the Kenyan exports are coming from smallholders.
However, this has required that farmers adopt international food safety requirements. The European Union and particularly the United Kingdom, which consumes many of Kenya’s avocados, have become particularly sensitive to food safety issues.
Farmers in Kenya have therefore had to comply with EUREP-GAP regulations that smallholders be trained on quality, traceability and conformity of avocado farming and processors on Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP) and Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point (HACCP).
However, the drive to achieve international standards hasn’t kept all of the Kenyan fruit’s markets open, with the country still down by Sh200 million a year as a result of a never resolved row that started in 2008 with South Africa - previously a major importer of Kenyan avocadoes – when it blocked the Kenyan fruit on the grounds that it was carrying fruit fly that was causing the fruit to rot.
The Kenya Horticultural Development Authority deny the claim and argue the ban is being driven by the interests of South Africa’s own, seasonal avocado industry.
And there the matter rests, unresolved.
Yet even without a market in South Africa, Kenya has competitive advantage on its side. In most countries, avocado production runs for shorter seasons than in Kenya, sat on the equator.
The Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (KARI) is also working at ways to increase the fruit’s shelf-life – from 5 to as many as 10 days – by slowing the production of the ethylene hormone responsible for its normal ripening.
“Many of our avocados have been rotting in the farms or as they awaited being exported and that is terrible for our exports. Everyday we are trying to devise new ways and strategies of ensuring that we come up with varieties that will stay a bit longer and thus increase our exports,” says Mr Kori Njuguna, a fruit research coordinator at the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (KARI).
For farmers such as Karanja, once tied to painfully low prices for his coffee berries from the local factory and part-time quarry work, the fruit has already transformed his fortunes. But as research and replanting continues, the sector’s now growing number of processors and exporters claim Kenya has the opportunity to gain far more yet from the world’s blossoming avocado market.
Written by Bob Koigi for African Laughter
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