While maize farmers in Uasin Gishu County were lamenting over delayed payment and lack of market for their produce last year, one farmer was smiling all the way to the bank thanks to her decision to shift from maize to passion fruit farming.
And when other farmers in the grain growing region were resisting calls from their leaders to embrace other crops and stop solely relying on maize as a cash crop to expand their sources of income, Alice Rono decided to take the challenge by setting aside two out of her six acre farm to plant passion fruits.
Ms Rono, who is also a nominated member of the Uasin Gishu County Assembly, says she does not regret venturing into passion fruit farming.
“I pay school fees for my two children in secondary school and do shopping for my family comfortably from passion fruit sales. Unlike maize that takes a full one year to be harvested, I harvest my fruits every week which I sell at between Ksh 80 and Ksh 100 a kilo,”she said.
Compared to maize farming that is capital intensive, she explained, passion fruit management is simple.
“Once you plant the seedlings, you just ensure the farm is kept clean from weeds and the seedlings are adequately watered. After eight months you start harvesting your fruit.”
The mother of three said since she ventured into passion fruit farming in her Moiben farm in Moiben sub county, one and half years ago, she has earned over kSH 700,000.
“At the moment I harvest at least 1,000 kilogrammes in one piece of the farm I planted earlier and at least 200Kgs monthly in the other during a good season, so I don’t miss at least Ksh 70,000 to Sh.100,000 every month from passion,” she adds.
Apart from earning income from the passion fruits, Ms Rono has also created employment by engaging the services of casual labourers especially during harvest.
For people who wish to venture to passion fruit farming, the nominated MCA said certified seedlings were readily available.
“There are people who have been licensed to provide certified seedlings and farmers wishing to move to passion farming are advised to get certified seedlings for good production and income.”
The MCA also advised other farmers to diversify and plant short term crops or vegetables that they can get an income every three months.
“ I am encouraging my neighbours and other farmers in the county to try horticulture instead of depending on maize and wheat,” she said.
“It is not bad to grow maize and wheat, but it is time our farmers considered growing vegetables, tomatoes, potatoes and Onions. They can also grow passion fruits, avocados and macademia so that when the prices of maize tumble like last year, they have something else to turn to,” she emphasised.
She also challenged the county government of Uasin Gishu and other development investors to seriously consider putting up a Passion fruit processing plant as a way of encouraging value addition.
“Currently the passion fruits we produce are exported overseas and regionally. If we had a factory that can produce passion juice locally, the value of our fruits would be enhanced due to value addition,” she observed.
Ms Rono, however, faces serious water challenge, especially during long droughts.
“Passion fruit farming requires a lot of water. One plant requires at least 20 litres weekly, meaning I require more than 20,000 litres of water weekly for my 2400 passion trees costing me Sh 15,000 since I have to hire a tractor to ferry the water from dams around,” she says.
“I am striving to drill my own borehole that will enable me to do drip irrigation and improve the quality of my fruits because I will be in the passion fruit business for a long time even when my MCA services end,” she adds.
Chief Executive officer, Equatorial Horti-fresh Company Moses Keitany said there was a huge market for passion fruit regionally and internationally. The company buys passion fruits locally.
Keitany, however, said passion fruit production in Kenya was still very low adding, “Last month we were forced to cancel substantial orders from Belgium for lack of passion. Due to prolonged drought, our production cannot even satisfy the local market,”said Keitany.
He said the Belgian market requires one ton of passion fruits from Kenya weekly while the Kampala market in Uganda requires up to 50 tons weekly.
“This has also pushed the buying price of passion fruit to rise from Ksh 30 previously to Ksh 100 per kilogramme currently, and we expect the current price to last for the next three months,” added Keitany.
Keitany said there was need for more farmers to be encouraged to form cooperative societies and engage in passion fruit farming as it has more returns unlike grains.
“What a passion fruit farmer earns from one acre of land requires a maize farmer to have at least 30 acres,” he said adding that if well managed acre of passion fruit will fetch a minimum of Ksh 1m annually.
He is, however, challenging passion fruit farmers to join cooperative societies where they will benefit from trainings on how to take care of their plants to qualify for the export market.
“Our main concern is the use of chemicals on passion fruits. The European market is very sensitive on the kind of chemicals used in fruit farming and if the European market rejects fruits even from one supplier because of unauthorised chemical use, it will adversely affect the entire Kenyan production,”he warned.
The CEO said farmers have to be trained on appropriate chemical use to safeguard Kenya’s passion fruit exports, “We also need to urge our farmers to enter into contract with our company so that they benefit from teaching our agronomists conduct across the county”.
Keitany said on a good season the company buys up to 600 tons of passion fruit from the local farmers and at least a ton during the low season.
“Between August and December last year, we managed to buy 600 tons from our farmers, but we are afraid we may not manage the same this year due to prolonged drought and erratic rainfall”.
“I wish to challenge the county governments to devise strategies on how they can assist farmers with readily available water so that the farmers can irrigate their lands and we get fruits throughout the year. Our farmers also need to shift from traditional to modern technology of farming to get more returns from their farms,” he advised.
By Kiptanui Cherono