Let’s propel Kenya to the top of the global superfood exporters’ table

  • 29 May 2023
  • 4 Mins Read
  • 〜 by Chris Flowers

The global trade agenda is changing quickly from where product and price dominated the conversation to a more holistic approach where a company’s values and purpose in today’s world are intertwined, and quite correctly, a big part of the decision to purchase products. 

In the international market, Kenya now takes its place as the largest avocado exporter in Africa, which is no mean feat. But let’s put that in perspective, imports of Hass avocado into Europe alone last year were approximately 728,000 tons, and Kenyan exports accounted for 40,000 tons, about 5%. But what’s our competitive advantage with other producing countries, what sets us apart, and why should consumers favour our products over others?

The World is demanding that businesses demonstrate values and purpose aligned to, more than just products, climate action, sustainability, quality agricultural practices and, notably, that we recognise our roles and responsibilities as good corporate citizens and be at the forefront of business strategies. We also know that agricultural businesses have complexities, which by their very nature mean that at times we can’t always get it right, and we do have to course correct and reflect.  

However, we have many examples of Kenyan companies doing the right thing and doing it well, but what we don’t do well is publicise this. We (private sector, public sector, academia, national branding agents etc.) don’t tell our story loud enough, and we don’t explain to the world what sets us apart. For example, as superfood producers, we do not plant our crops in sensitive ecosystems and don’t abstract irrigation water from fragile water sources.  

At Kakuzi, we have invested heavily in irrigation and green technology-based systems to mitigate the worst impacts of drought. We have invested in the necessary irrigation capacity to irrigate 1,600 hectares of macadamia, avocado and blueberry crops. We learnt a while back from several countries including Israel, Australia, and the United Kingdom, among others, and replicated their success right here in Murang’a County. 

We have constructed 19 separate earth dams holding 12 million cubic meters of water. These dams are filled through natural runoff from our water catchment areas during the rainy seasons. Filling up dams takes sacrifices that may not be visible to all such as ensuring that the water catchment zones are left undisturbed. Unfortunately, in some quarters, these water catchments are considered idle land but nothing can be further from the truth. If there were no water catchments at Kakuzi, there would be no water in the dams, and this would severely limit agricultural production and the ability to do what we do, thus the sacrifice to conserve water catchment areas.

Still, superfood production is much more multi-dimensional than just water; it is also about being able to answer the call for climate action, amongst other vital topics.  Agriculture accounts for between 13 to 21 percent of greenhouse gases, and we, as superfood producers, must be able to demonstrate that we are playing our part. To be quite frank, what’s the point of growing amazingly healthy food at the expense of our planet?

By scientifically measuring our carbon footprint and understanding where emissions are being generated, we can pinpoint where to reduce them. The question must, however, be, is trying to reduce the emissions enough? The simple answer is no. We must, and we need to be doing more. Investing in agriculture and technology that not only reduces our emissions but removes carbon from the atmosphere must be our goal. At Kakuzi, we started this journey in 2019 by measuring and reporting our Scope 1 and Scope 2 carbon emissions. We are now embarking on measuring Scope 3. 

In Kenya, we have a conducive environment to competitively and sustainably grow superfoods, including fruits and nuts such as avocados, macadamia, and blueberries, among others. According to the Superfoods Global Market Report 2023  published by ReportLinker, an award-winning market research solutions provider, the global superfoods market grew from $177 billion in 2022 to $190.48 billion in 2023 at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 7.6% and is expected to grow to $256.27 billion in 2027 at a CAGR of 7.7%.

The superfoods bid may sound ambitious, but the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. Still, we must be committed to undertaking this in a manner that enshrines the commitment to quality, sustainability and traceability. It is, however, not enough to plant millions of avocado trees if we are not going to support our farmers, small and large alike, with the information on what the market wants from us. It’s a lot more than just growing fruit to ensure good practices including phytosanitary standards.  

For a listed firm like Kakuzi and the wider Kenyan export-focused farming fraternity, we should focus on enhancing our competitiveness through product diversification and showcasing our sustainability values better including adherence to the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, climate action and governance. Undoubtedly, Kenya is well placed to have its voice heard and to demonstrate best practices. Kenya is also well-placed to be a thought leader in many of the conversations of the now. The only question is, are we willing to go out there and tell our story?

 The author is the Managing Director of Kakuzi Plc.