Kenyan avocado farmers benefit from aid programme and Kiwi agri know-how

Twelve hundred smallholder avocado farmers in the central highlands of Kenya are benefiting from a five-year aid project involving Plant & Food Research and edible oils company Olivado.

The New Zealand Aid programme has provided up to $4 million over five years to Plant & Food to help improve the productivity and quality of production from the farmers who supply Olivado's Nairobi factory.

The smallholder farmers generally have farms of just one hectare, with an average 24 trees. Around 45 percent of the farmers are women. The project aims to lift them from subsistence agriculture to being part of the cash economy.

Olivado buys the Fair Trade and Certified Organic fruit directly from the independent family-owned farms. At one farm, the owner bought a cow and named it Olivado in honour of the additional income from supplying the company which exports oils to 30 countries.

The number of farmers involved in the project has grown by around 20 per cent since it began a year ago as Olivado's production had risen, said the company's general manager Sarah Nicholls. Organic oils now accounted for around 60 percent of total production. Nicholls said they had had no problem signing up new farmers, particularly as word had spread about the crown research institute's training. "They're a bit of a novelty there," she said.

Plant & Food said the long-term goal was to more than double the average return to the farmers over the next decade by improving yields, shifting to a new tree variety, and improving post-harvest practises.

"Key to the long-term sustainable success of this project is going to be linking their growth to the success of Olivado's business," said research development manager Barbara Stowe.

New Zealand-based Olivado has stuck with its processing operation in Kenya despite three serious attacks on staff members since it set up there in 2007. In the latest attack last year operations manager Andrew McLaren was shot in the back when al Qaeda-linked militants opened fire inside an upmarket shopping mall in Nairobi. He's since returned to his role, dividing his time between Kenya and Olivado's other factory in Kerikeri.

(BusinessDesk)

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