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Farmers look to fruit trees for supplementary income

As the mar­ket for tra­di­tional crops be­come sat­ur­ated and dis­eases rav­age tra­di­tion­ally luc­rat­ive crops like maize and wheat, farm­ers keen on max­im­ising their in­come are turn­ing to fruit farm­ing which has seen them more than triple yields and in­comes.

From yel­low and purple pas­sion fruits, Red Roy­ale paw­paws, bass avo­ca­dos and apples, van­guard farm­ers have found gold mines in these fruits with de­mand com­ing from both local and in­ter­na­tional mar­kets.
In Kenya for ex­ample a health con­scious middle class with an af­fin­ity for spend­ing are driv­ing the de­mand for fruit farm­ing as are soft drink com­pan­ies who prefer to buy from farm­ers rather than im­port the highly priced fruit pulp.

Among the fruits though, pas­sion fruits- both the yel­low and purple vari­et­ies are a notch higher in the pop­ular­ity. “Pas­sion fruits are luc­rat­ive and easy to make money from. I have been able to ex­pand my orch­ard re­ly­ing mainly from the pas­sion fruits pro­ceeds,” said Charles Mureithi, a high school teacher and a fruit farmer in Dim­com vil­lage in Si­pili, Laikipia dis­trict.

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Charles Mureithi a farmer in Laikipia is among pi­on­eer farm­ers in fruit farm­ing with an orch­ard that has man­goes, avo­ca­dos, apples, or­anges, lo­quat and cher­imoya. The pas­sion fruits however stands out. The over 1200 vines are his cash cow.

“Busi­ness is good as far as pas­sion fruits are con­cerned. In­fact i am in­creas­ing acre­age under cul­tiv­a­tion of my pas­sion fruit and have already se­cured four more acres. A quarter of my house­hold spend is catered for by pro­ceeds from pas­sion fruits sales,” said Mureithi who also teaches Swahili at Lanai Day Sec­ond­ary School.

When he was test­ing the pro­ject three years ago with only 150 pas­sion trees, he could earn Sh80,000 with a kilo fetch­ing Sh30.

And with the luc­rat­ive nature of pas­sion fruit busi­ness, a group of seven local farm­ers have moved and ex­pan­ded their orch­ards to meet the rising de­mand for the fruits from neigh­bour­ing towns.

“I have been able to edu­cate three stu­dents through high school using pas­sion fruits re­turns. I can com­fort­ably ad­vise that one may well re­tire and rely on fruits farm­ing in old age”, said a middle aged Joseph Gatama, an­other of the local farm­ers. A bishop with a local church, Gatama has 250 pas­sion trees on his three-acre farm. “Every two weeks, we are able to sell Sh2,300 worth of pas­sion fruits and I ex­pec­ted to earn more as the newly es­tab­lished orch­ard comes to mat­ur­a­tion,” he said.

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He re­mem­bers a year he was able to make Sh60, 000- a pricey sum for rural farm­ers- from sale of pas­sion fruits. Loc­ally the pas­sion fruits have two pick­ing sea­sons the Au­gust Novem­ber and the April-May-June sea­son. The Novem­ber sea­son has big­ger and more fruit that the May one, ac­cord­ing to local farm­ers. However, with the dry con­di­tions that punc­tu­ate the semi-arid Laikipia dis­trict, the local fruit farm­ers have to in­vest heav­ily in water sys­tems to cush­ion their valu­able fruits.

“We have to con­struct un­der­ground water tanks to store sur­face run­off for use as ir­rig­a­tion water. A full tank, of five metres wide by five metres depth is able to sus­tain the orch­ard till the rainy sea­son,” added Mureithi, who has since con­struc­ted such a tank of his flat piece of land. On his part, Gatama-with a sim­ilar stor­age fa­cil­ity on his farm- has pur­chased a water pump and in­ves­ted in pipes to ferry water to the plants. “An ini­tial in­vest­ment of less than Sh100,000 is eas­ily re­couped once the har­vest­ing sea­son ar­rives. We are un­able to meet de­mand for fruit as buy­ers ar­rive on our farms seek­ing fresh ripe fruits,” said Mureithi.

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