By Ken Langat
In bid to ward off unscrupulous cartels that have permeated Avocado industry and made themselves a bargaining chip, farmers from Kericho have formed a cooperative society.
Kericho Avocado Farmer Cooperative Society was presented to the registrar of companies last year by the farmers as an umbrella body to collectively market their produce and enhance productions for their socio-economic wellbeing.
Officiated by the Chairperson Ms. Asenath Cheptoo, Vice Chairperson Jackson Biegon, Secretary John Koech and Treasurer Mr. Korir, the society has 400 registered members spread across Kericho County with members having mature Avocado trees.
Ms. Cheptoo said they are targeting over 10000 unregistered farmers from the entire South Rift region with each having an average of over 80 Hass and Fuerte varieties of Avocado trees.
“The downward side of the association is that majority of farmers are cooperators of various organizations and have known the added value of joining the movement. The beauty of it is, majority of us have tested the bitter side of cartels and sweeter side of their fruits in an equal measure,” Ms. Cheptoo asserts.
Cheptoo was talking to the Sacco Review during a consultative forum convened a head of the April harvesting season that was held at Kapsamumgut Polytechnic in Kapsoit Ward, Ainamoi Constituency. The event was attended by officials and farmers drawn across the region.
She disclosed that the major challenge they are facing was a storage facility saying some mature fruits go waste due to pests, diseases, unfavorable weather conditions and control by cartels.
“After opening the group and making use of social media service like Whatapp it attracted farmers across the region including locals from diaspora like a pins to a magnet registering at ease,” she said.
In the same vein, the Chairlady revealed that Marketers, Exporters and Importers including locals and International consumers have taken vantages positions ready to do business with the society.
With the avocado farming gaining traction in the region due to the favorable climate, the Government under the Ministry of Horticulture, Ministry of Agriculture, Ministry of Cooperatives including parastatals, Agricultural Finance Coopration (AFC), Agricultural Food and Safety Authority (AFA) and Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Authority (KPHIS ) are the government agencies protecting their farming production the way a hen protect her chicks.
“I must bow down in honour of the above national and county government technocrats and agencies for shepherding us relentlessly since inception by convening field days for trainings, licensing and monitoring nursery farmers, planting to harvesting trainings, pest and diseases control management and marketing training,” she said.
Mr. Biegon said the tempo at which the government and none government agencies are constantly monitoring their progress was a telling point that avocado farming has bright future.
The retired primary school teacher and a long serving former Director of Green Highland Sacco, Biegon said the society was growing on membership and appealed to the government and donors to facilitate cold storage facility.
He disclosed that after visiting existing societies for bench mark, he established that a cold storage facility is estimated at Sh 200 million.
Biegon who has over 200 mature trees in about two acres of land revealed that he cannot compare his five acres of tea farm with avocado farming, saying the avocado beats tea ten folds in terms of revenue and farm management.
“I can confirm to you that when they say avocado farming is a Green Gold, it is true,” Biegon disclosed.
Biegon, who lost fruits worth Sh 60,000 last year to unscrupulous marketers who disappeared into thin air with his fruits urged both national and county government to protect farmers from middlemen.
The society secretary also revealed how he lost fruits worth Sh 300,000 the previous year when a cartel claiming to be from Biofarm vanished.
“I had urgent matter to attend in Nairobi when i was approached one morning by some men purporting from Biofarm limited company and wanted the fruits,” he said.
He said the fellows convinced him that already their lorry track was collecting fruit at some nearby places and would wish to harvest his fruits in the mean-time after agreeing on Sh100 per kg.
The same hue and cry story of cartels is replicated as every farmer had a something to tell.
Dr. Wilson Soi advised farmer not to allow any middlemen to enter their farms and appealed to the government to protect them from the dealers.
Soi, also prominent avocado farmer, called members to consolidate their resources and explore avenue of exporting their fruit, adding values and looking for partners to put up the cold storage facilities.
During the meeting, they resolved to sign contract with one agent to take their fruit at an agreed price comes next season.
The Chairlady disclosed that for one to be a member, he or she must register with Shs 500 and minimum shares of Sh 4,000. The new society held their maiden Annual General Meeting late last year and was overseen by cooperative officials from the Ministry of Cooperatives.