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Indigenous Fruit Trees Unlock Economic Opportunities for Siakago Farmers in Kenya

Peter Njeru, a farmer from Siakago, Embu County, is part of a group of 27 farmers who have recognized the potential of indigenous fruit trees for economic benefits. These farmers have embraced grafted indigenous fruit trees, which bear fruit within two years compared to wild-grown trees that take up to a decade to produce. This initiative is part of the Indigenous Fruit Tree Project, led by the Kenya Forestry Research Institute (KEFRI), aimed at utilizing underutilized fruit trees in dry areas prone to food shortages.

Siakago is witness to the transformational power of indigenous fruit trees in improving the livelihoods of local farmers. Led by the Kenya Forestry Research Institute (KEFRI), the Indigenous Fruit Tree Project is focusing on promoting the cultivation and utilization of indigenous fruit trees in areas where food shortages are prevalent.

Varieties of Indigenous Fruit Trees in Siakago

Tamarindus indica, vipex payos, and amarula are the three main indigenous fruit tree species cultivated by the 27 farmers in Siakago. These trees are grown on a combined 5-acre land. Among the three, Vitex demonstrates the highest economic potential for the Bright Horizon Self Help Group, to which the farmers belong.

Harvesting and Value Addition

During the peak season in May/June, each farmer harvests a 90 kg bag of Vitex fruits. To supplement their production, the farmers procure additional fruits from regions like Kitui or Mbeere at affordable prices. The farmers have gained valuable expertise through seminars conducted by KEFRI, enabling them to process the fruits into candies, wines, and jams, which they sell locally.

Profitability and Market Expansion

Through value addition, the farmers generate significantly higher profits compared to selling raw fruits. For instance, one kilogram of Vitex Payos fruits yields two liters of Vitex Payos wine, which sells for Sh80 per liter. Similarly, a kilogram of fruits produces two kilograms of jam, sold for Sh35 (250g) or Sh50 (500g). Although the prices are relatively low to secure market access, the profit margins range from Sh20 to Sh25 for Peter Njeru and his fellow farmers.

Market Reach and Recognition

The Siakago farmers sell their products to local shops, friends, and notable clients such as the local agricultural ministry in Mbeere and the World Bank. These clients often place orders for wine, supporting the farmers’ value addition venture. Over the years, the Bright Horizon Self Help Group has witnessed increasing interest in indigenous fruit trees, prompting Peter Njeru to assist other farmers in the Eastern region.

The Nutritional Value of Indigenous Fruit Trees

Indigenous fruit trees play a vital role in providing essential micronutrients to communities in arid areas, where staple crops struggle to thrive. According to the World Agroforestry Data, Kenya boasts over 400 species of indigenous fruit trees, which are rich in micronutrients like Vitamin C. Studies conducted by the International Center for Research in Agroforestry (ICRAF) have shown that indigenous fruit trees contain significantly higher amounts of Vitamin C compared to common fruits such as mangoes and oranges.

Empowering Communities and Alleviating Poverty

In regions like Mwingi, characterized by high poverty rates and crop failures, protecting indigenous fruit trees has become a crucial strategy for improving food security and nutrition. ICRAF studies reveal that 58% of households in Mwingi preserve at least one indigenous fruit tree on their farms. The cultivation and utilization of these trees offer a sustainable solution to poverty.

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