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Kenyan farmers toast EU demand for avocados

Avocado farmer Simon Kimani tending to his crop in Kandara, central Kenya. The 73-year-old produces around 28,000 avocados per year, and is paid the equivalent of a little over 10 euro cents each.

Thika, Kenya

IT MAY be loved and derided as the go-to millennial brunch, but avocado toast is proving a boon for Kenyan farmers as they cash in on the seemingly ever-growing enthusiasm.

Across Kenya's ochre fields, farmers are switching coffee and tea for avocados in a bid to profit from increasing European demand for that most instagrammable of dishes.

Among them is Simon Kimani, 73, who tends five acres of avocado trees.

"Recently when the avocado trade started growing up we thought that it is better to plant avocados, that's how I started," he says, pointing to his first trees, planted less than a decade ago.

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Avocado toast is becoming a staple of European menus, says Laura Hannoun, a blogger who has listed the top 10 places to order the simple, hip dish which can set one back 14 euros (S$22).

"The fair price is between 10 and 11 euros," says the 25-year-old.

In Kenya, smallholder farmers grow avocados and sell them on to exporters. Mr Kimani's buyer is Bernard Kimutai of Fair Trade Company Ltd.

Mr Kimutai has seen a sharp increase in exports of the popular Hass avocado in recent years.

"In 2016 we exported 20 tonnes, in 2017 we did about 40 tonnes," he says, hoping to double the figure again this year.

Harvesting is a low-tech affair: a broken wooden ladder and an old machete are all it takes for Mr Kimani and his two employees to chop down the hard, green avocados, collected young so they reach Europe ripe.

In this way, Mr Kimani produces around 28,000 avocados per year, and is paid the equivalent of a little over 10 euro cents each.

In European supermarkets, where they are sold alongside others from Chile, Israel and Mexico, they easily fetch 10 times that amount, if not more.

"One hundred per cent of (our) avocados are for export. We try to improve the quality to make sure that what we get from the farmer is 90 percent exportable," says Mr Kimutai, adding that any that do not make the grade are sold on to oil-processing companies.

"The Kenyan government has encouraged farmers to grow more avocados because of the market," he adds.

Kenya is the world's sixth-largest exporter of avocados - with 3 per cent of the world's total - and Africa's biggest, producing 63,000 tonnes last year. AFP

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