Kenyan avocado farmers have suffered a major blow after the Agriculture and Food Authority (AFA) suspended the export of the fruit indefinitely.
This comes nine months after President Uhuru Kenyatta and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping signed a deal allowing Kenya to export frozen avocado to the Asian country.
Apart from China, Kenya's other overseas markets include European Union countries which accounts for 42 per cent and Middle East at 28 per cent.
The demand for the fruit in the international market rose steadily last year by between 50 and 80 per cent compared to the previous season with more customers demanding full containers of avocado monthly.
Some of the companies which have contracted farmers across the country are blamed for putting pressure on farmers to harvest premature fruit in a bid to rake in millions of shillings from the huge Chinese market.
Greedy middlemen and exporters in Nakuru have been buying premature fruits from farmers for between Sh15 and Sh20 which they sell at higher prices. The agriculture rich county has launched an ambitious project to popularise the growing of avocado.
By the end of last year, Nakuru County government had distributed over 113,000 avocado seedlings to over 6,200 farmers.
In a notice signed by interim head of Horticultural Crops Directorate Bernard Ondanje dated January 23, 2020 the move to suspend the export was meant to safeguard quality.
"The enforcement of this restriction is to ensure quality products are produced and marketed. Harvesting and export of immature avocado has negatively affected Kenyan image in overseas markets," said Mr Ondanje.
Mr Ondanje revealed that a number of companies and individual farmers have flouted the rules of exporting the fruit.
"The directorate has been forced to implement stringent rules to safeguard our export market and all avocado varieties have been suspended until further notice," read the notice to all avocado exporters.
Kenya is the largest exporter of avocado in Africa according to 2017 statistics from the multilateral agency International Trade Centre.
The country produces an average of 191,000 tonnes of avocado per year.
It exports approximately 51,507 tonnes of the fruit, earning the country nearly Sh8 billion while South Africa exports 43,492 tonnes, annually.