Kenyan avocado producer Karakuta Farm, based in Juja, north of Nairobi, has made huge strides in building up the Karakuta brand in recent years, according to CEO Grace Ngungi.
“We are embarking on a journey to make the avocados from our orchards a global brand,” she affirms. “We are privileged in that, as we continuously seek to understand the sector and the market’s needs, we get to travel, visit stellar orchards, interact with local and international avocado buyers and get to learn consumer demands. We are happy to say we have improved the quality of our fruits considerably this year.”
Among Karakuta’s achievements last year was the naming of Ngungi as Outstanding Woman of the Year 2021 by the Avocado Society of Kenya. “This is an award given to deserving individuals for their contributions to shaping our crucial industry,” she explains. “Many women relate to my story, and are starting to see avocado farming as doable. I have helped many young people set up farms and get involved in the sector. I have also been invited to speak to women led-avocado cooperatives in as far as Zambia and Tanzania.”
Commercial production of avocados in Kenya is still relatively new, she says, hence the limited amount of publicly available information. “However, due to rising demand for the superfruit, there is growing interest in setting up small or commercial orchards,” she reveals. “We share our experiences openly – the good, the bad and the ugly! When we were starting up, we made costly mistakes, and it’s unfair to withhold that kind of information.”
Ngungi stresses Karakuta’s commitment to its brand promise of delivering “quality and consistency' from its orchards. “Production is at its peak and we are expecting a bumper harvest in July, which is our first major crop,” she says. “So far, 68ha is under production, with 6,000 mature trees producing 23-25 tonnes. Based on our expansion over the last two years, we expect this volume to triple by 2024.”
Key, she says, is to communicate that the Karakuta avocado is no ordinary Hass. “Karakuta is a brand that is produced with a lot of passion under stringent GlobalGAP guidelines, and according to a code of responsible business conduct,” Ngungi states. “We have invested in advanced real time traceability technology. Every avocado bears a quality sticker with a QR code providing important information on the brand. We are looking for wholesale and retail partners interested in forming collaborative long-term, sustainable business relationships, rather than the extremely transactional relationships of old.”
According to Ngungi, the main challenge is producing organically in a tropical climate. “Tropical climates are a paradise for pests,” she says, “but our priority is to produce with the health of consumers and the environment in mind. We have partnered with Spanish company Cropper Agra to conduct R&D on our farm. So far, we have had successful trials to control false codling moth, fruit flies and mosquitoes using Insectobye, a bio-protector and plant defence inducer based on organic plant extracts. We are making very good progress.”