Africa's dream of feeding China hits hard reality

STORY: In central Kenya workers are picking avocados from the trees.

The hope for agricultural firm Kakuzi is that some of this crop could be destined for the crown jewel of emerging consumer markets.

In November China announced a raft of initiatives to boost its imports from Africa.

But that strategy is yet to be realized.

Nevertheless, Jonathan Kipruto - Kakuzi's assistant general manager of the avocado section - says it's a great opportunity for the company and the country.

"You have a market which is so hard to satisfy and with that you know you can be able to encourage growers to even continue expanding their orchards.”

Kenya struck an export deal with China for fresh avocados in January after years of lobbying for markets access.

Six months later and no shipments have left, according to Kakuzi and industry bodies.

Eric Were, of the Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Service said they've had to jump through hoops to get ten avocado companies cleared for Chinese exports this year.

What's more, the inspectorate announced last month that Chinese authorities had decided to conduct their own audits.

Based on the experience of other African fruit producers, that could mean a decade before getting the green light.

But ramping up agricultural exports is one of the few options available to many African countries to earn they hard currency they need to service mountains of debt - much of it owed to Beijing.

Take Kenya.

Its annual trade deficit with China is about $6.5 billion.

It also has roughly $8 billion of Chinese debt.

To service that debt this year it needs $631 million.

But that is almost three times its exports to China in 2021.

China's African Affairs chief Wu Peng says such imbalances were unintentional, and that China has always been focused on promoting the "balanced development of China-Africa trade".

However, after decades of being loaned billions of dollars - largely for infrastructure - many countries on the continent say they simply can't afford more Chinese debt and must boost exports.

For some - such as Kenya - taking advantage of the opportunity is proving to be a struggle.