Chris Flowers, managing director of Kenyan exporter Kakuzi, believes Kenyan avocados can differentiate themselves from the competition by highlighting their commitment to quality, traceability and sustainability
Would you tell us a bit about the potential for Kenyan avocados going forward and how the reputation of Kenyan fruit can be improved?
Chris Flowers: What we’re seeing in Kenya is the adoption of avocados by many different growers, medium-scale, large-scale, and a lot of small-scale farmers as well. That’s actually very important for us as a country, but what we need to be mindful of is that we’ve got to produce a product that the world continuously wants to buy. That’s where our three watchwords come in: quality, traceability and sustainability.
For Kakuzi and a number of large-scale operators, that traceability part is what we do. The sustainability part is what pretty much the entire country follows. But we’ve got to get more of our small-scale farmers in a situation where their fruit is traceable and we can get access to markets for quality, traceable and sustainably grown products. Our differentiation really is that our climate is absolutely made for growing avocados without having to use fragile resources to produce those crops.
We’ve often heard over the last few years about the amount of water it takes to produce avocados. In your opinion, is the important thing to produce in the right areas to begin with?
CF: Absolutely, and I think there are two parts to that argument. First, how much applied water do you need and second, where does that water come from? They are as important as each other.
In terms of our agroecological zone at Kakuzi, we responsibly irrigate all of our avocados, but we irrigate only for a very short period of time. What Kakuzi has done is set aside environmentally managed rainwater catchments that provide the runoff to our 19 dams – we store around 12m cubic metres of rainwater a year. So the rain that falls naturally throughout the wet season we hold in our valleys in these dams and then we use that water later on in the dry season. We stretch the rains and by doing this we are not competing for water with other users during the critical dry season months.
After years of solid growth for avocados in Europe, the market looks to be slowing down. What’s your assessment of the European market?
CF: I think we are in difficult times. Most people have projected that this would come. But as we go through this complex period, the actual sustainability credentials of how you grow that crop are becoming more and more important.
No one wants to buy a crop that doesn’t in a way have a good impact on society and the environment, and I think that’s where Kenya can differentiate itself. We have energy credentials, whether they’re coming from our water use or how we grow the crops or where we grow the crops. For example, we don’t grow crops in areas that are not used to agricultural cultivation. So you see a lot of other crops – maize, tea, coffee – now being converted to avocados rather than moving into fragile ecosystems.
I think it’s a fact that consumers are becoming far more discerning about where they buy their crop from, and want to know how those crops are grown, and I think that is one of the key aspects of Kenya, that we can demonstrate that the values of our customers are the values that we hold ourselves.
[The above is an excerpt from a recorded interview to be broadcast during the online Global Avocado Congress on 7 July - register here]