Enterprise

Disabled group dreams big on avocado venture

avocado

A man spreads out his avocado produce at Keumbu market on August 19, 2021. PHOTO | ONDARI OGEGA | NMG

Summary

  • Their chair, Damaris Muthoni says she volunteered to host the project on her land situated in the neighbourhood of Maragua town.
  • It took them three months to hit the market with 20 Macadamia seedlings and 160 of Hass Avocado.
  • To reduce expenses in tandem with falling market prices for seedlings, the group decided to stop buying avocado seeds, rather pay people to collect for them from market places and in neighbours’ farms.

In 2005, a group of 15 people living with disabilities came together in Murang’a South sub-county and founded Vision Farmers Challenged Group aimed at building better lives.

They were 10 women and five men who after sessions of brainstorming, settled on horticulture seedlings business.

“There was a craze of Hass avocado and macadamia ventures. Apart from the dairy sector, the avocado and nuts were threatening coffee farming,” says Rebecca Njeri, the group secretary.

Around that time many disillusioned coffee farmers were clearing their bushes owing to poor prices, debts and corruption bedeviling the sector and replacing them with avocado or macadamia.

“We analysed the market for the two products and decided that it was bound to be long term. We knew as the craze picked up, there would be a scramble for seedlings. In 2005, a grafted Hass Avocado seedlings was retailing at Sh500 while that of exotic macadamia was going for Sh700,” Ms Njeri says.

The group says that it drew a market strategy that would see them capitalise on the high demand for the two crops. They planned to sell a grafted Hass avocado for Sh300 and an exotic macadamia plant at Sh500.

Their chair, Damaris Muthoni says she volunteered to host the project on her land situated in the neighbourhood of Maragua town.

“We wanted to found our project with the lowest capital possible. We started with 100 macadamia seedlings as well as 200 avocados. We bought the seeds from our neighbours and after nurturing them in a nursery, sought grafting experts to transform them from traditional into exotic varieties,” Ms Muthoni says.

It took them three months to hit the market with 20 Macadamia seedlings and 160 of Hass Avocado.

“We made Sh58,000 as gross earnings and Sh38,000 net profit. It was encouraging. But by the time we were doing our third batch of sales in 11 months, new seedling dealers had sprouted and the price was going down,” Ms Muthoni says.

To reduce expenses in tandem with falling market prices for seedlings, the group decided to stop buying avocado seeds, rather pay people to collect for them from market places and in neighbours’ farms.

“We also decided to do away with the macadamia seedlings since apart from the seeds being costly, they had proved to be very problematic to graft. Grafting hardwood is never easy and the success rate was so poor,” she adds.

By 2010, the group was doing well, selling on average 2,000 Hass avocado seedlings every five months.

“But the prices kept on falling to a point that by 2017, a Hass avocado seedling was going for Sh200. To beat the competition, we went down to Sh150. This made us popular with farmers and we would sell all of our stock. We were selling at least 2,000 seedlings every six months,” Ms Muthoni says.

The group’s treasurer, Jane Wairimu says between 2006 and 2010 each member was getting on average Sh6,000 as annual pay and which improved to Sh8,000 in 2011.

As their customer base grew, the earnings increased sharply to

Sh15,000 between 2012 and 2014. At the same time, through training programmes, they have helped found 12 groups in Murang’a County that have the disabled as members and are now self-reliant.

“In 2015, the county government started issuing free Hass avocado seedlings to farmers. Most politicians also eyeing the 2017 polls started issuing them free of charge. Our business slowed and our dividends dipped to Sh4,000 in 2016 to 2018,” Ms Wairimu says.

In 2018, the Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Service (Kephis) partnered with the group in efforts to produce quality seeds.

“This collaboration helped us a great deal since we received inputs free of charge as well as our water bills going down substantially since Kephis gave us water tanks to harvest water. It also footed the bills of procuring grafting buds and also provided us with a grafter,” she says.

By 2021, the group’s profitability had improved and was able to pay Sh8,000 dividends per six months after Kephis also helped them win market confidence by giving them a dealership certificate and included the group in its list of accredited Hass avocado seedling sellers.

“All we want now is for the government to connect us with irrigation water to save us the 20 percent on earnings that we lose to suppliers during dry seasons. We have also started thinking of other ways to grow ourselves. We are now working on a way to use our savings to buy land and build commercial houses,” she says.

The treasurer says they have saved enough to buy a piece of land for the project “and we are also seeking help from the government and donors to help disabled groups dealing in Hass avocado seedlings to acquire more land.”

On average, she says one Hass Avocado tree per year can fetch a minimum of Sh7,000 and an acre can carry 350 trees translating to at least Sh2 million in earnings. “If those of us not severely disabled can be empowered to actualize our entrepreneurial plans, we won’t be a bother and we won’t need charity to make ends meet…” Mr Joseph Irungu, a member says.

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