Fruit farming saving ukambani farmers from erratic rainfall
The adoption of farming different fruits in Machakos, Kitui and Makueni counties, famously known as Ukambani or Eastern Kenya region is keeping alive hopes of many farmers from the region which has for years been threatened by poor harvesting.
Most parts of the country especially eastern region for instance experienced below-normal rainfall that was mainly recorded in April and May 2017 according to the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources State Department of Environment Kenya, Meteorological Department.
This ever hotter weather and more erratic rainfall has made growing many crops more difficult in Kenya’s Ukambani region, but fruits harvest is prospering.
“We use the hot sun as a blessing,” said Meshaek Ikinya Mutera, who began farming mangoes in semi-arid Machakos County about seven years ago and has seen his harvest increase by about 40 percent in the last five years.
As per the Best Tropical Fruits Company, a Kenyan fruit growing and processing firm, between 2012 and 2016, mango production in Kenya rose by 47 percent, to more than 80,000 tonnes.
This according to the firm has also increased selling price for processed mango by two thirds since 2013, with overall revenue from mango sales hitting 400 million Kenyan shillings ($3.9 million) by the end of 2016.
The region is turning out “some of the sweetest mangoes in the world”, said the Mutera, who represents a group of mango growers and also has carried out research on mango farming in Kenya as part of a master’s degree programme.
Growing cereals especially maize and beans which the farmers would plant in April for October harvest, but the crops would not perform well due to inadequate rainfall.The end result has been, very little is produced that could hardly take care of the farmers’ families not to talk of selling.
“We would end up miserable on harvest time because we would not have enough produce to take care of our families and to sell,” recalls Beth Munuvi, a farmer in Kaulani village, Yatta Constituency.
Munuvi who grows yellow passion today says the passion is speedily raising as the fruit of choice for most farmers in the county.
“I am happy that yellow passion is picking up well giving rise to some farmers’ organizations where we can sell our produce,” says Munuvi,
She is a member of the Yatta Farm Growers Community Based Organisation, which brings together 100 farmers.
Ramesh Gorasia grows date palms on part of his 400-acre farm in Masongaleni, Makueni County. Date palms are related to loquats safe for trees.
“We have 772 mature date palms and 1,200 young ones. Our main specialty is fresh dates, which we grow for sale both locally and abroad,” says Gorasia.
In his farm there are also oranges, tangarines, grapefruits, bananas, mangoes among others.
In June this year, Governor Kivutha Kibwana, Makueni Farmers representatives, and residents of Makueni unveiled the Makueni Fruit Processing Plant at Kalamba.
The Plant has a capacity to process five metric tons of raw mangoes producing 3,000 liters of Puree (Mango concentrate) per hour. A liter of the concentrate fetches Sh150 at the market place.
This factory will provide opportunities for local farmers and investors to own a stake and grow wealth, learn new technologies and learn about value addition to increase farm incomes.
Makueni County, with a total of 1,469,625 mango trees from its 28,696 farmers, led in 2010 mango production in the Eastern province, generating Sh1.267,974. Machakos County followed with Sh300,268 from 506,544 mango trees scattered to its 17,676 farmers according to Institution Development and Management’s baseline survey of mango trees census report.