Workers inside the Iviani fruit processing plant owned by youth and exporting mango to US markets [Erastus Mulwa, Standard]

It was a pop of colour and abundance at the first ever National Mango Conference in Wote, Makueni County. The conference brought together different stakeholders including mango farmers, processors and exporters.

The aim was to address the mango value chain challenges and expand the market base for the Kenyan mango by meeting market requirements and standards.

Makueni County Governor Mutula Kilonzo Junior who played host to the conference, noted that the event was timely given the many challenges that the mango sector was facing. 

He decried the declining returns on mango farming and called for urgent intervention by all relevant stakeholders to reverse the situation.

Plans for funding

The governor observed that despite the fact that mango farming accounted for a significant percentage of the country’s fruit production, mango farmers have largely been isolated in the national government’s plan for funding - a situation he termed as unfair.

“Mango is the cash crop in Makueni and many other regions across the country but farmers have not been receiving any money towards the improvement of production and value addition,” said Kilonzo.

The governor revealed that mango farming accounted for 29.5 per cent of the county’s total Gross Domestic Product (GDP) according to a 2021 report.

According to Mr Kilonzo the significant contribution to the GDP qualifies the succulent fruit as a key economic development variable that requires sufficient investment.

“Just like there is the established coffee cherry fund, we need a fund for mangoes where farmers can be advanced money to improve production and quality. This conference will be seeking a single resolution that will yield a national consensus on policy on mango production,” said the governor.

According to the governor, Makueni, which is the highest producer of mango in the country, boasts of four million mango trees, producing an estimated 255,700 metric tonnes of mangoes valued at about Sh4.2 billion annually.

However, the governor noted that the production and income from mango farming was in the brink of decline owing to many challenges, including lack of funding and other natural factors.

“There was a decline in the area under mango cultivation from 33,000 ha in 2018 to 29,000 ha in 2021 with a projection of a further decline unless urgent measures are taken,” he said.

Policy on mango farming

Makueni County Agriculture CEC Joyce Mutua called for the development of a national agriculture policy to protect mango farmers from exploitation by middlemen as well as the high cost of inputs.

“We urgently need a national policy to guide the promotion of mango farming in the country, failure to which we will lose the huge opportunity presented by the entire value chain enterprise,” she noted.

Jackson Mutua, a mango farmer from Kitui county who attended the conference urged the national government to heed to calls for the establishment of a fund to support and promote mango farming in all the mango-producing counties.

“The Ministry of Agriculture at the national level must swiftly move to seize the opportunities in mango farming and establish a fund to support production and value addition. In so doing, we will not only create wealth for our people but also many employment opportunities,” he said.

Mutua lamented that mango farmers were still reeling under exploitative input costs, unreliable export markets, cartels controlling the domestic market as well as bureaucracy in processing of business documents to promote Small and Medium Enterprises.

There were also some major breakthroughs from the expo. According to Kenya News Agency, it was announced that mango farmers in Makueni County will benefit from a cold storage facility that will be constructed by the Agricultural Food Authority (AFA).

AFA Board Chairman Cornelly Serem made the announcement at the conference.

“The Governor has assured us that there is half an acre of land to construct the cold facility to avert exploitation of our farmers from middlemen. We are going to set monies aside from the next financial year,” said Serem.

While noting that they will help counties build capacity for extension officers, he added that his organisation will also help the counties in the value-added chain and get markets for the mangoes.

Mango-growing counties represented included Machakos, Kwale, Kilifi, Tana River, West Pokot, Machakos, Embu, Meru, Murang’a, and also the United States Agency for International Development, among other participants.

“I assure you that we will partner with you and farmers. I have a team of knowledgeable officers who are ready to work with county governments in order to promote the horticultural sector,” he said.

International standards

According to KNA, the chairman also disclosed that his organisation will work closely to increase the land under mango cultivation in the country, besides ensuring the mangoes meet the set standards internally, in a bid to reap maximum benefits for the farmers in the country.

Calling on more partners to come on board to revive the sector, Governor Mutula noted that mango farmers have been forgotten by the national government, saying only coffee, sugarcane, avocado, and tea farmers have been given preference.

He added that this had led to rampant exploitation of mango farmers by unscrupulous middlemen who benefited more, saying this was a mockery to the farmers.

“For far too long, mango farmers have suffered, been ignored, and been exploited. The national government has only preferred sugarcane, coffee, and avocado farmers in the country. Freedom is coming to mango farmers now,” Mutula said.

“We want mango farmers to be given a table at the national desk,” he added.

The theme of the conference was “Winning Markets for Kenyan Mangoes by Building a Resilient and Competitive Mango Value Chain.”

The main objectives were to explore opportunities in the mango value chain, provide a platform for business linkage, and enhance market access, to name a few.

The expected output from the conference included increased opportunities among mango value chain actors, increased market access for Kenyan mangoes, more business linkages, and information sharing among value chain actors’ solutions to mango value chain challenges and responsible institutions.

The Governor thanked the partners and the national government who helped ensure the conference was held saying the resolutions would be taken to the National Assembly and Senate for discussion.