In 2003 when Anne Wangechi started growing hass avocado variety in Murang’a, Central Kenya she did not have any knowledge on the fruit production something which led to her losing almost a half of her first produce due to post-harvest mishandling.
However, coming to the rescue of Ann and other farmers is a special container called controlled atmosphere (CA) which will see transporting avocados to far markets has been a challenge to smallholder growers in the country agone story.
The container can extend the shelf-life of the fruits from less than seven days to six weeks, allowing for movement of the produce from the production sites to the markets saving many farmers like Ann unnecessary losses dwindling their incomes.
“In my first harvest I expected Sh46,000 from 2,000 pieces of fruits I harvested but due to post-harvesting mishandling a number of fruits were rejected during quality assessment by an export company which was paying Sh280 per carton containing 12 fruits,” said Ann.
She says, the night after harvesting the fruits before she could transport them she was forced to keep them in the house to avoid theft not knowing that the fruits are supposed to be left outside in the open to prevent them from any sort of browning.
Without checking the whole produce, the following day she packed all of them in a small car closed the car windows limiting the free flow of fresh air over the fruits to rush them to the exporting firm.
“When we unpacked the fruits, so many of them had developed some brown spots sending us through a tedious sorting exercise. I was surprised to have lost almost a half of the produce which according to the company’s experts was due to mishandling,” said Anne who is a secretary by profession.
She was then forced to sell the rejected fruits in the local market at Sh6 each reducing her income.
According to a 2017 research by ResearchGate on Status of Avocado Production in Kenya, Kenya has about 7,500ha under avocado production yielding 81,000 tonnes but about 30,000 to 40,000 tonnes of avocado goes to waste due to pre and postharvest handling practices.
However, for CA technology which has been tried in countries such as Australia to France, it will increase export to major markets, which are paying thrice for the fruit.
A report by the Maersk, a global logistics company, released in 2016 indicates that there has been a 34 per cent increase of the export in 2016 against that of 2015.
The 70 per cent small-scale farmers like Anne who are among the producers of the 119,000 metric tonnes of the fruit annually in the country and who have been faced by post-harvest challenges could take up the technology to realise their full returns.
The CA container are customised to specific temperatures, humidity, as well as air concentration to minimise ripening and physical injury to the fruits due to chilling.
The most appropriate condition of the containers include five per cent oxygen, 10 per cent carbon dioxide concentration, the temperature of 7.5 degree Celsius, minimized ethylene gas and 90-95 per cent humidity to reduce chilling injuries.
Farmers can access the container from exporting firms and agencies.