From SGR to avocado, Kenya seizes opportunities in China
Updated 20:04, 10-Nov-2022
Shen Shiwei

In less than three years, China and Kenya put the modern Standard Gauge Railway (SGR), the East African nation's flagship project, into operation. A lot of Kenyan pillar sectors, including transportation, industrial parks, logistic centers, farms and gardens, have benefited a lot in the past five years. The project is under the spotlight because many people know the importance of this mega-project to the country's industrialization, modernization and daily life of everyone.

Now, as more Kenyan fresh avocados are being exported to China, the booming agricultural trade has attracted a lot of attention. Many people would like to know what the potential is and how will they get benefited.

Kenyan avocado. /VCG
Kenyan avocado. /VCG

Kenyan avocado. /VCG

The point here is not about cash crops exported to China, such as cotton and oil seeds, but the agro-products for daily lives, like fresh fruit, beef and other processed products.

In 2018, Kenyan avocado debuted at the first China International Import Expo held in Shanghai, prepared to enter the Chinese market. But due to pest risks and the prevalence of fruit flies, only frozen avocados were allowed to be exported to China. On September 2019, the first batch of Kenyan frozen avocados arrived in Shanghai.

With four years of hard work of governments, plant health inspection and quarantine agencies, customs authorities, technicians, farmers and traders from both sides, China and Kenya have put fresh avocados on the table of Chinese consumers.

The booming Chinese market economy and the huge demand for high-quality products would stimulate avocado production in Kenya by both small- and large-scale farmers boosting incomes at household levels as well as increasing investment in agro-processing. At the national level, Kenya's increasing agro-export to China will not only help the county balance its trade with China, but also help the county diversify its emerging economy.

In recent years, Kenyan avocados, Zambian blueberries and Zimbabwean oranges, among other African agro-products, have begun to enter the Chinese market and have been welcomed by Chinese consumers. Coffees from Ethiopia, Kenya and Rwanda are tremendously popular on Chinese e-commerce platforms and coffee shops. South African wine, Namibian beef and lobster from Mozambique are now served to China's booming middle class.

Roasted coffee beans and a cup of coffee. /VCG
Roasted coffee beans and a cup of coffee. /VCG

Roasted coffee beans and a cup of coffee. /VCG

China has now become the second-largest destination for African agro-exports, which grew by 18.2 percent year on year in 2021, according to Chinese customs. Kenya is Africa's largest exporter of avocado, ranking sixth globally. Kenya is also the first African country granted access to export fresh avocado to China. But with surging global food prices and disrupted supply chains, are African agro-products profitable in the Chinese market?

For decades, North America, Europe and the Middle East have been the favored markets for African agro-products, which are still relative newcomers in China. They definitely face fierce competition from well-established Southeast Asian and Latin American counterparts.

For instance, Kenyan avocados must compete fiercely with Mexican and Peruvian avocados that have dominated the Chinese market for years with good branding, massive production and quality management. New Zealand, Australian, Argentine and Chile fruit products are strong competitors, not only because of their quality and tariff advantages but also because they cooperate with reputable Chinese business partners who have a strong market network and marketing capacity.

But this doesn't mean that business opportunities don't exist for Kenyan and many other African agro-products in China.

China has recently granted market access, sometimes without imposing import tariffs, to 25 agricultural products from 14 African countries, including Kenya, South Africa, Benin and Egypt. China has also opened "green lanes" for African agricultural exports, which means China Customs and other authorities are taking practical measures to facilitate easier access to the Chinese market.

China is a big market for Kenya, not only for avocados but also for other products. The Chinese market has room for everyone, and the growth is rapid. Chinese consumers are similar to those anywhere. They are eager to pay for unique tastes and high-quality products. The key question is whether African businesses can seize the opportunity to market their products in the booming Chinese market successfully.


This article was also published on Kenyan media STAR in October 31st 2022.

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