China has agreed to slash the duty levied on avocado exports from 30 percent to seven percent in a move that should ideally help Kenyan farmers benefit from the lucrative Asian market.
Trade Principal Secretary Chris Kiptoo says the decision was reached last week following negotiations with the world’s most populous nation.
Dr Kiptoo said the decision will see ordinary Kenyan farmers who want to export produce to the Beijing market benefit from the slashed tariffs.
However, tough handling conditions that China has placed remain in place casting doubts on the optimism about small exporters.
“China has just agreed to lower the tariffs from 30 percent and this move will benefit our farmers, especially the small-scale holders," said Dr Kiptoo.
He said the country is targeting the 1.5 billion market and that even if they get a hundred million people, buying Kenyan avocado, it would boost farmers’ earnings significantly.
The PS said the two parties are still negotiating on issues of stringent standards. Some firms, however, have already started exporting the commodity to China despite the tough conditions that include freezing of the export fruits.
"On standards, China wanted us to export frozen avocado as opposed to fresh but negotiations are still going on," he said.
PEELING AND FREEZING
Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Service (Kephis), which is overseeing the export of avocados had said the conditions set by China might limit small-scale holders from accessing this market. This is given the size of investment required in terms equipment that is way beyond the means of small operators.
According to Kephis, farmers will be required to put systems in place that will support the peeling and freezing of the produce to the required temperatures before exporting.
China wants Kenyan farmers and traders to freeze the fruits to negative 30 degrees after peeling off the skin and chill further to negative 18 degrees while in transit to the destination, meaning that farmers would have to invest heavily on cold rooms to meet the requirement.
Kenya has been fighting over the last seven years to have its avocado access the Chinese market in its fresh form. But this has largely been in vain because of the fruit fly pests that are common in local produce.
Kephis managing director Esther Kimani says Kenya has created pest-free zones where avocado meant for exports will be handled as the government seeks to curb the fruit flies menace.
"After we have finished working on these pest-free zones, we will never have to worry about the risk of pests, which has been a big threat to our markets," she said.