Avocado Society of Kenya Faces Deregistration After Tweet Supporting Tanzania Amidst Immature Avocado Controversy

In a swift and escalating regulatory intervention, the Avocado Society of Kenya (ASOK) faced stringent government action mere hours after issuing a controversial tweet on its official handle @KenyaAvocados. Dated January 14th, the tweet expressed ASOK’s solidarity with a statement by TAHA (Tanzania Horticultural Association), vehemently condemning recent incidents involving the export of immature avocados. The tweet also alluded to communications with notable figures, suggesting a concerted effort to uphold the quality of East African avocados globally.

However, this digital proclamation appears to have been the final straw for the Agriculture and Food Authority’s (AFA) Horticultural Crops Directorate (HCD). The government body responded by officially deregistering ASOK the very next day, citing a breach of industry standards and improper conduct detrimental to the nation’s horticultural reputation. The decision was communicated through a stern letter from Christine Chesaro, the Acting Director of the Horticultural Crops Department, outlining a series of allegations against ASOK and its leadership, particularly targeting Executive Officer Ernest Muthomi.

The government’s swift action has sent shockwaves through the industry, highlighting the delicate balance between advocacy and regulatory compliance. The tweet, while intending to align ASOK with broader regional efforts to protect the integrity of East African avocados, was perceived as an overstep, especially in light of the ongoing investigations into the illegal export of immature avocados.

This development marks a significant pivot in the government’s approach to regulating the avocado industry, a cornerstone of Kenya’s agricultural export economy. The incident underscores the intricate balance between industry self-regulation, government oversight, and the need for cohesive and constructive communication strategies.

As the dust settles on this dramatic turn of events, stakeholders are left to navigate the new landscape. The requirement for new and renewing avocado dealers to demonstrate membership in alternative industry associations signals a reshaping of the sector’s governance structure. The broader implications for trade, industry reputation, and the future of collaborative efforts like that suggested in ASOK’s last tweet remain unfolding narratives.

This episode serves as a stark reminder of the complexities of managing and safeguarding national industries in an increasingly interconnected and digital world. The actions taken by the AFA, while decisive, also beckon a period of reflection and recalibration for all parties involved, with the shared goal of ensuring the sustainable and reputable growth of Kenya’s avocado trade on the global stage.

Here is the letter by Acting Director of the Horticultural Crops Department Christine Chesaro:

“The Authority regulates the industry through application of rules and regulations as set out in the AFA Act of 2013, Crops Act of 2013 and the Crops {Horticultural Crops) Regulations, 2020.

In line with its mandate, the Directorate enforces sector Regulations to ensure that quality produce is marketed locally and internationally, which promotes the industry that lies within our mandate. This includes ensuring that mature Avocado is harvested and exported, in a bid to sustain and grow our international markets and minimize interruption of the crop cycle occasioned by harvesting of immature Avocado. In this regard, the Directorate closed the Avocado harvesting season and export by sea for the 2023/2024 fiscal year with effect from 3rd November 2023.

Kenya is the number one exporter of avocadoes in Africa and number six in the world contributing to a foreign currency earning of over Kshs. 19 billion annually. This has been achieved through foreign market development initiatives over many years as the Directorate endeavors to sustain the growth of the markets.

Earnest Muthomi CEO Avocado Society of Kenya
The Authority has noted with great concern that during this closure period, Avocado Association of Kenya (ASOK) through the Chief Executive Officer: Mr. Ernest Muthomi, has been engaging in the following activities, that have caused disharmony and disrepute to the industry and likely to injure Kenya’s trade in horticulture:

Posting on social media unverified information about Kenyan export of immature Avocado to regional and international markets, through the society’s twitter handle @kenyaavocados
Communicating to countries in the Middle East through the UAE Embassy as well as the Ministry of Investment, Trade and Industry (MIT!) and Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock Development (MoALD) that Kenyan Avocado in their markets is contraband and that they should be removed from Supermarkets.
Failure to use the right communication channels especially on matters that touch on the industry and national reputation.
Making constant unverified allegations against export companies, the Authority and its officers injuring their reputation, which is contrary to the provisions of the Constitution of Kenya, 2010.
Verbal attacks against individuals and regulatory institutions on social media platforms.
This can lead to the loss of the growing export market in the Middle East, which the country has invested a lot of time and resources to develop.

The conduct of ASOK and its leadership is counter-productive to the growth and development of the entire horticulture industry and has a negative impact on Kenya’s trade ties with other countries, especially on export of horticultural commodities.

The Directorate wrote a letter of caution to the CEO ASOK on 18th December 2023, asking the Association to desist from these actions. ASOK has continued with the same actions without formally providing evidence of its allegations.

Following the interception of trucks transporting immature avocado out of the country through the Namanga Border Point, the CEO ASOK has been camping at Namanga since Friday, 12th January 2024 up-to-date. We have information that this is in a bid to interfere with the ongoing investigations around the illegal exportation of the avocado fruits to Tanzania.

In view of the aforementioned, the Authority pursuant to the Crops {Horticultural Crops) Regulations 2020, para. 13, sub-section (1, 2) and (3) is hereby officially deregistering ASOK and ceases to recognize it as an Industry Association w. e. f 15th day of January 2024. New applicants and those wishing to renew their dealership licenses upon expiry, will be required to demonstrate membership to alternative Industry Associations.

The Authority through its Board of Directors (BOD) and the entire management officially ceases to conduct industry’s business with your association. This is in the interest of maintaining order, harmony in the industry, safeguarding our international markets, the reputation of the industry and that of the country.”