The completion of an audit conducted by China could pave the way for fresh Kenyan avocados to be sold in its fresh fruit market. The Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Service (KEPHIS) confirmed in July that Chinese authorities had concluded the audit of its avocado producers and packhouses. The development signals the lifting of a critical non-tariff barrier by China that has thus far limited the space for African food and agriculture producers to gain access to the lucrative Asian market.
The two countries had reached an agreement in 2019 that allowed Kenya to export fruits to China but strict Chinese regulations that allow only freeze-dried fruits to enter the country limited the number of Kenyan producers who could take advantage of the deal. So limited was the trade that in 2020 all that Kenya was able to export to China was a single container of frozen avocados. Kenya's biggest avocado grower, Kakuzi, spent a month showing it could track its produce from the seeds, to how trees are managed, and how the avocados are harvested, processed, and packed. By contrast, the European Union only requires inspection at the point of exit.
A concerted effort by KEPHIS aimed at ensuring Kenyan producers and packhouses meet the necessary standards required by China eventually led to the two countries signing bilateral trade protocols in January of this year to allow for the export of fresh avocados. These protocols lay out specific phytosanitary and inspection quarantine, and veterinary sanitary requirements. This includes mandating that all exported avocados are first fumigated with methyl bromide to kill off any pests, including fruit flies. Although Kenya had implemented these new protocols by early May and ten of Kenya’s 100 avocado exporters had been cleared, Chinese authorities insisted on another virtual audit in May which concluded in early June.
Cultivation of avocados is concentrated in the central part of the country and most of it is done by smallholders. In 2020 Kenyan avocado exports exceeded 68000 tons. The conclusion of this final audit should be the final step in granting Kenyan avocado producers access to the large Chinese market which imports around 40,000 metric tonnes of avocados each year. Although China itself is a large agricultural exporter it imports as much as US$161bn worth of food and agricultural commodities of which Africa accounts for a mere 2.6%. Lifting restrictions on imports of fresh fruits and vegetables from countries like Kenya could help reduce the growing trade imbalance between Africa and China. Beijing has pledged to increase the value of imports from Africa to US$300bn by the end of 2024, up from US$106bn in 2021.Kenyan avocado exports could be an early success story in this trend. Kenyan authorities have stated their ambition to eventually export 40% of the country’s produce to China.
Now that KEPHIS has implemented the necessary protocols and ensured that the first Kenyan producers meet the necessary standards it will be better positioned to facilitate other avocado producers to achieve the same. This experience could even benefit producers in the country’s other lucrative agricultural exporting industries, such as fresh-cut flowers or figs.
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