Kenya: Where's the Avocado Factory You Promised Us? Kisii Farmers Ask Ongwae

Elijah Maranga had high hopes that proceeds from his avocado farm would help boost his finances and turn around his life.

This was in 2013 when the Kisii County government licensed a private investor to set up an avocado processing factory. The investor started production but ran into problems, leading to the collapse of the processing plant.

Maranga says county officials advised farmers to embrace the Hass avocado variety as it produces the highest quantity of oil that would be needed by the factory.

In Kisii, farmers deal mainly with the golden Hass variety, which produces fruits all year round.

But this variety has a low oil content, at three per cent.

Create job opportunities

"But where is this factory that we were promised? Having an iron sheet structure does not mean completion of a processing plant," says Maranga, who is among hundreds of farmers in Kisii who want county officials to finalise plans to set up a functional avocado processing plant.

Maranga has an avocado farm at his rural home in Etangi and in Bobaracho, where he resides and runs a small hotel. He says residents had been promised that their children would get jobs at the factory.

"We were told the factory would help process our fruits and offer job opportunities to the youth," he said.

He said that when the county delayed the factory plans, conmen took advantage of their situation and defrauded them.

"They said they would bring us seedlings, only to learn that it was all a lie. Some of them were later arrested and charged in court," he says.

He also says that they now sell their produce at a loss.

"We sell our produce locally. But middlemen sometimes come and buy our avocados. They know we have no alternative, so they dictate prices. They have often taken advantage of our ignorance and exploited us."

Lack of a ready market, he says, has hurt them because avocados are highly perishable.

Wasting away

The Nation visited the site of the proposed avocado factory at the Agriculture Training Centre, near Kisii town.

Equipment bought for the processing plant lies wasting away outside the iron sheet-walled structure that is supposed to be the factory.

The machines are rusting, with vegetation taking over inside the building, which was completed in 2019.

But farmers will have to wait a little longer as the county government consults with a new investor for the avocado plant, eight years after the first attempt failed.

The county had in 2019 said that talks with the investor, Avofresh Processors Ltd, were at an advanced stage.

But officials still say there is renewed hope for farmers because an investor will be found soon.

"We are in talks with investors," said Kisii Governor James Ongwae in an interview with the Nation.

It has been a long wait for growers who had ventured into large-scale production of the fruit in anticipation of big payouts.

They have been agonising over their produce, some of which is rotting on their farms due to lack of a ready market.

Building the avocado factory started in 2013 but the project stalled. It was envisioned to be a ground-breaking investment in a county whose economy mainly relies on agriculture.

The Sh150 million factory was meant to process 80 tonnes of the fruit per day and offer employment opportunities to hundreds of young people.

"We are in touch with the new investor. He will be coming soon to continue with the production process. Our goal is to support value addition to local agricultural produce for higher returns for our people," the governor said.

Governor Ongwae launched the project in November 2013 with much pomp. It was said at the time that Australian and Turkish investors were to set up the plant that was intended to benefit residents of Kisii and Nyamira counties.

Value addition

Back then, the governor said his government had put in place measures to increase avocado production by funding both individual and group nurseries with a target of one million seedlings per year.

In December 2014, Governor Ongwae flagged off 30 tonnes of avocado oil that was destined for Mexico, with a promise that the county was to become a major avocado oil producer.

"The avocado processing plant will focus on value addition in which it will produce juice, cooking oil and syrup extracts, earning farmers regular and reliable income besides creating jobs for the youth," he said at the time.

Kisii is characterised by limited land sizes and most people practise subsistence farming, with most owning less than an acre of land.

For this reason, the choice to venture into avocado farming was a tough one and a great sacrifice for many.

Now farmers have nothing to boast about as their hard work goes unrewarded.

During a farmer's exhibition and an avocado farming launch at Nyamaiya stadium in Nyamira County last week, Governor Ongwae, said Kisii will soon play host to an avocado processing factory that will receive produce from all parts of the country.

"Farmers in Kisii County have registered avocado cooperatives through which they will mobilise their commodity and sell it as a group and it will be easy for them to negotiate the best prices both at the local and international markets," Governor Ongwae said.

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