Jackfruit: Giant fruit that can change your fortunes

65 per cent of jackfruits in Kenya are found in Busia County. [Courtesy]

The jackfruit, popularly known as fenesi in Swahili is a favourite dessert especially in Busia county and the Coast, around Kwale.

According to Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organisation (Kalro), about 65 per cent of jackfruits in Kenya are found in Busia County.

Other important counties producing jackfruit are Kakamega, Bungoma, Vihiga and Nyanza (Siaya, Kisumu, Homa Bay, Coastal (Kwale, Kilifi, Lamu and Taita Taveta), Central (Muranga and Kirinyaga) and Eastern (Tharaka Nithi and Meru) Counties. In 2020, this fruit was characterised as a “super-fruit” in India.

Jackfruit produces the largest edible fruit that weighs up to 18kg.

Gabriel Simiyu from Busia county has planted the fruit for some time, he tells what it takes to cultivate it.

Ecological requirements

Jackfruit grows best in deep, sandy loam to clay loam soils of medium fertility with good drainage. The ideal pH of the soil for jackfruit ranges from five to 6.5.

Varieties

Several types of jackfruit are grown in Kenya, however, the popular ones are orange, white and yellow flesh.

“Orange variety has thick flesh, small seed, and good eating quality. Yellow variety has thinner flesh, a stronger aroma, and sweeter taste,” says Simiyu.

Clement Kotonya checks on a jackfruit at his farm in Imbo, Homa Bay County. [Denish Ochieng, Standard]

Propagation and planting

Jackfruit is usually propagated by seeds or by asexual propagation. Farmers who propagate by seeds should select healthy, vigorous, and disease-free seeds from productive mother trees. Asexual propagation can be done by cuttings or grafting. Among the grafting methods, cleft grafting appears to be the most effective.

“A cleft grafted tree is high in genetic quality, grows short but strong in stature. Its branches tend to spread side-wards,” Simiyu says.

Plant seeds in boxes or into potting bags. Clear and clean the field at least a year before transplanting seedlings to a permanent site. A few weeks before planting, dig holes about 60cm to 80cm in diameter and 40cm to 50cm deep. When planting, fill holes with fertile surface soil and farmyard manure. Use the sub-soil to make a basin for water harvesting.

“Before transplanting, prune-two-thirds of the leaves of the seedlings. Cut leafy branches to prevent excessive moisture loss and take special care when transplanting because the jackfruit has a delicate root system,” says Simiyu.

“Also, planting distance should be no less than 10 to 12 metres between trees (10m by 12m).

“Remove all weeds within a radius of one metre around the tree. Prune trees regularly to remove unnecessary twigs and branches,” he says.

Fertilisation and irrigation

The seedlings need ample nitrogen fertiliser, while bearing trees need regular applications of phosphorous and potash. Nitrogen, phosphate and potash play a vital role in plant metabolism, and evidently affect fruit production.

“A balanced supply of these nutrients in the fertiliser mixture must be applied to the plant,” says Simiyu.

Weeding and pruning

This should be done every three months and two years after transplanting. The trees should be pruned by cutting the top of the main stem leaving two to three metres to regulate the height.

Jackfruit. [Denish Ochieng, Standard]

Pest and diseases

To control fruit flies, wrap the fruits with empty cement bags or jute sacks.

“Use a pheromone trap to attract the flies,” says Simiyu.

Twig borer – control by cutting off all affected shoots and twigs and burning them. Bark borer - spray the recommended pesticides and burn affected twigs and dead branches.

Harvesting

Jackfruit bears fruit at three years old. About ten fruits can be harvested the first time the tree begins to bear. The average tree will optimally bear between 100 to 200 fruits per year. The average fruit weight of this fruit is about 5.72 kg in Busia County. An acre can accommodate 50 plants, thus 800 fruits will be produced by the fifth year.

Market

The fruit is widely consumed in the Western region and Coast. If the market price of fruit is Sh300, then the average value obtained from one acre in the fifth year could reach Sh240,000.  

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