A group of mango farmers is raking in huge returns thanks to a simple mango pulp processing machine.
The machine can process mangoes, avocados, tomatoes and pawpaws to produce juice, yoghurt and jam. It is a brainchild of Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology (JKUAT) Engineering Workshop.
Chaaria Mango Collectors, that comprise 11 self-help groups from Imenti Central, Meru went the juice processing way to cushion themselves from exploitation by brokers.
How machines work
“We came together as a group to escape the exploitation of brokers. As individual farmers, for years, we were exploited by middlemen who offered us poor prices for our raw mangoes,” Peter Mungania, the group chair says.
Additionally, Mr Mungania says many farmers in the area resorted to mango farming when cotton farming started to lose its allure.
“Majority of the members who total 130, are former cotton growers who got frustrated when the sector started to show signs of collapse,” Mungania says.
To sharpen their skills, the members underwent a training course at the University on how to operate the machines.
“The machines are easy to use. But to use them effectively, members went for a short training programme for orientation,” the chair says. So how does the project work?
When mangoes are in season, each member supplies several tonnes, which are processed. They get returns based on their supplies.
To meet the demand, the group sources for mangoes from mango-rich regions in Kiagu and Mitunguu wards.
And the chair says the demand for mangoes for processing is growing, which has forced them to consider buying mangoes from Embu, Kitui and Tharaka Nithi.
The key steps
On the market, he says the juice, yoghurt and jam are sold to nearby schools, hospitals and supermarkets. For the processing, fresh mangoes are first received at the collection point.
Next, the fruits are washed and graded.
The washing removes outer dirt and foreign matter from the fruit skin.
Next, the washed mangoes are fed to the inspection-cum-sorting conveyor where unwanted, damaged mangoes are removed manually.
Afterwards, the clean and graded mangoes are passed on to the fruit juice extraction and processing unit.
From fresh mangoes, the juice is extracted in juice extraction system. The fruit’s outer skin, seed and fiber of fruits are separated out from extraction machine and then disposed manually.
Extracted juice is passed to the heat treatment to avoid quality degradation. The pulp will be processed further.
The sweetness of juice depends on the mango variety, explains the chair. Because of that fact, the group members grow six varieties; Tommy, Vadic, Ngwee, Apple, Kent and Eden.
According to the chair, apple yields more fruits but if not well sprayed during the flowering stage, the production lowers. A well-managed mango tree can produce about five sacks of the fruits in a single harvesting season.
Given that mango is a seasonal crop, how do they cope during low seasons like now?
“The beauty of this machine is that it can also process other fruits. So when mangoes are out of season, we pulp avocado, pawpaw, tomatoes among others. That way members are always busy.”
And it has capacity for high volumes.
“Our plant has a capacity to handle eight tones of mangoes per day, in an hour it can pulp a tonne.”
So far, the project has picked well, more donors have come calling after the JKUAT windfall.
After the JKUAT and UN-Women donated the pulping machine, TechnoServe, an organisation working with farmers on reduction of post-harvest losses built a charcoal cooler for the storage of the fruits.
In addition, the Meru County Government also stepped in and constructed a place where the cooling plant has been set up.
Are they open to new members? For one to join the group, s/he must be a mango farmer or farming horticulture crops.
Members also buy a minimum of 10 shares.
“Our CBO is registered by the Department of Social Services and for you to be a member, you must pay a membership fee of Sh2,000. We have a rule that each member should buy at least 10 shares, one share is Sh500,” explains a Joseph Muthiora, a member.
“Currently we do not have a maximum share range one can buy but in June next year, we will have the annual meeting where we will deliberate on the issue.”
At the end of the year, the shareholders get the dividends according to the number of shares one has.
Though they have made great strides, they are still grappling with the challenge of high costs of chemicals to spray their crops.
“We have a great challenge buying chemicals to spray the mangoes.
For instance, to counter powdery mildew which affects the flowers and the fruit flies has been so expensive due to the hike of the chemical prices,” says farmer Francis Kaburia.
Michael Kirugungi, a member says previously they had a challenge in marketing the fruits but since they went the value addition that has been sorted.
“We had a challenge marketing our raw mangoes but that is being sorted now that we make juices that have more value and a longer shelf life,” Kirugungi says.
In Meru, farmers harvest mangoes from November to March, with most of them selling them to brokers at Sh5 apiece.
At the Gakoromone market in Meru town and Gaciongo market in Maua, a mango goes for between Sh15 to Sh20.
So far the group has made great strides. In June this year, they got a major boost after they were issued with a Global-GAP (Good Agricultural Practices) certificate by the ministry of Agriculture.
The certificate which is renewed annually, allows the farmers to sell their produce in the international market.