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On August 2, Kenya exported the first batch of fresh avocados grown in the country to China in what has been described as a game changer not only for the country but also for the East African region.

The move also made Kenya, the largest producer of avocado in Africa, the first African country to export fresh hass avocados to China, a market with a population of more than 1.4b people.

So far China has cleared 15 Kenyan firms to export avocado into its market following long audit and verification process.

Already, Kenya has more than three million smallholder farmers who grow avocados and it is this success, with support from China that farmers in Sembabule District and the surrounding areas are looking to tap in. In the first six months of 2022, Kenya exported 44.26m kilogrammes of avocados abroad, earning $51.18m (Shs198.2bn).

While Uganda has shown potential in the recent years, the country still has a long way to come close to what Kenya exports. In 2021, for example, the export value of Ugandaโ€™s avocado was $1.26m (Shs4.8bn).

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Diversificationย 

Cattle keeping and dairy farming remain the popular economic activities in Sembabule but the district is making baby steps to diversify to other products such as coffee and lately avocado farming.

Chinese government officials led by Zhang Lizhong, the Chinese Ambassador to Uganda, working with area leaders, are on ground supporting a group farmers in the district to get production off the ground.

Avocado farming in Sembabule is championed by the Kanyisa Hass Avocado Project (KHAP), an initiative of the Kanyisa Food Security Foundation. The initiative already has an off shoot, the Kanyisa Out grower Project which targets women and the youth.

Outgrower scheme

Out grower schemes are arrangements through which a company ensures its supply of agricultural products by contracting individual farmers or farmers organised into producer groups, to produce crops for sale to that company.ย  Ideally, these are win-win agreements.

In the current set up, a farmer pays 30 percent of the seedling and the other percentage is covered by the government through the agriculture ministry.

Women and the youth are also given an opportunity and time to raise share capital. They also receive training on how to manage and invest money.

In Lugusulu, Lwebitakuli, Mawogola County, Sembabule District, the Kanyisa Hass Avocado Project has already secured a 250-acre piece of land to set up an avocado orchard to support small holder farmersโ€™ demonstration and training activities. More than 60 acres of this has already been planted. Projects officials say they plan to cultivate, produce, process and market quality fresh Hass Avocado variety and avocado oil for export. Another 170 acres have been reserved for demonstration and training of farmers in growing Macademia. Of these 80 acres have already been planted.

โ€œThe project is very much promising and has a very good market. People like it and the also the oil produced. It is a green product. In China we like it and I hope in the future it will be exported to the Chinese market. We will be the first to buy it. Sisters grow as much as possible,โ€ Ambassador Zhang said while addressing a team of women leaders selected among out growers.

Big project on hass avocado

The Hass avocado project in Sembabule District will target at least 8,000 acres with 25,000 smallholder farmers and 5,000 commercial farmers.ย  A small holder farmer can have an average of one acre or less while commercial farmers with high means of production will have a target of between 20 and 50 acres.

โ€œThis project is well aligned to the Government of Ugandaโ€™s efforts to uplift the living standards of the majority of poor Ugandans through the national agriculture policy of one acre farm model and the need to increase exportation,โ€ says Clovis Manirambona, the head of operations at Kanyisa.

Intercropping Hass Avocado

Hass avocado can be planted with other crops which, according to promoters of the project in Sembabule is a key selling point for the idea to the community. Sembabule has very low rainfall and experiences long dry spells which is seen as a major challenge to Hass Avocado growing. To succeed, farmers need an easy access to water in case of a dry season.

Victoria Mayiga, the Chairperson Sembabule Womenโ€™s Farmers Sacco says the team of women she leads received Shs500m from the former area MP Sam Kutesa and another Shs100m from President Museveni. The group has a membership of 547 women and 119 groups who save and borrow from the Sacco.ย  In an interview she says her members have been mobilised to take advantage of the project and participate as out growers to boost their income.

โ€œWe expect to have 2,500 households growing avocado because we have the market. We have already signed a memorandum of understanding with the Chinese to help us with the market and other people who will be coming in to buy our avocadoโ€ she says. Mayiga says they hope to leverage their experience growing coffee to tap into the avocado fortunes.

Shartsi Musherure Kutesa, the Mawogola North County MP said they have enlisted expertise from different countries where the crop is already doing well to help train the farmers in the area.

โ€œWe have one goal in mind; increasing household income. We are confident we have the technical expertise to help our women understand how it is grown. It takes time just like coffee but this even has higher returns than coffee,โ€ she says.

Water is a big challenge says Musherure. She, however, says there is a push from her office and other players to get the government funded water projects in the area to deliver on their promise to residents both in terms of affordability and accessibility.

In 2022, the estimated price range for avocados in Uganda Shs1,629 per kilogramme. Based on a farm gate price of Shs1,500 per kilogramme, a famer can expect to make Shs60m by the seventh year from an acre.ย  From the deal with the Chinese, Kenyan farmers are making at least Shs3,250 per kilogramme more than double the anticipated farm gate price in Uganda.ย  Anย  acre requires 166 trees at maximum on planting spacing of 6x4m of which production estimate is over 450,000 fruits (75,000kg) according to the according to the agriculture ministry.

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