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Farmer revives passion glory 17 years later

By Lydiah Nyawira | October 29th 2016 at 00:00:00 GMT +0300

Stephen Muchoki, a purple passion fruit farmer on his farm at Sagana Settlement Scheme in Mathira Nyeri County on 0ctober 25,2016. [PHOTO:KIBATA KIHU/STANDARD]

In 1999, some 300 farmers in Mutaga village, Nyeri County, were in a booming venture, purple passion fruit farming.

Each home had an orchard and they were making a fortune as they sold the fruits to locals and various juice making companies.

However, a passion fruit woodiness viral disease swept through the village and all the vines dried up, forcing the farmers to abandon the venture altogether.

However, 17 years later, Stephen Muchoki has surprised many villagers by trying to rekindle the past glory.

"I was skeptical about it because of my experience with the woodiness disease, but I decided to help him because I was sure the fruits would make him some money as he was the only one willing to grow them," says Jackson Kimaru, one of those who lost their vines in 1999.

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Muchoki leased half an acre from his neighbour and embarked on passion fruit farming in December last year.

"I bought 300 seedlings at Sh20 each, 100 wooden posts and 15kg of galvanised wire to hang up the vines," he says.

He says the wires must either be galvanised or copper to avoid rusting, as the rest adversely affects the vines' growth and production.

"I know it is risky to try passion fruits here considering the outbreak that took place 17 years ago, but I am optimistic it will not affect my farm," Muchoki says.

In July this year, he had his first harvest and got 100kg of passion fruits.

"I was a bit overwhelmed by the high yield because I had only harvested from a few plants, but now each week I harvest up to 500kg of the fruits," Muchoki says.

Currently, one kilo of passion fruit is retailing at Sh200 in the local market. Muchoki sells at Sh150 to local vendors who then take them to the market.

He says he has not yet secured a regular client, but the demand from local vendors is always high.

Muchoki harvests the fruits while they are still green so that they do not over-ripen while on transit. The weight of each fruit is also higher when unripe than when purple and ripe.

He says when planting, one should leave two metres between the rows and seedlings.

The plants need water throughout the first six months and Muchoki has installed overhead sprinklers to ensure the crops are watered every day.

"I water the plants twice a day until they bear their first fruits six months after planting after which we water them only once a day," he notes.

As the fruit vines begin to grow, it is important to tie strings of clothes for the vines grow on before reaching the top of the post.

Kimaru explains, "We prefer to use clothes because they are cheaper than wire and are less likely to bruise the young vines."

Purple passion fruit venture is not without its challenges as Muchoki must constantly keep birds at bay.

Birds like to eat the flowers, which are crucial for pollination.

"So, we have planted spinach between the rows around the farm to distract the birds from the flowers," Muchoki says.

He also keeps a close watch over his plants for blight and leafspot diseases and is constantly worried about the dreaded woodiness.

The passion fruits can be harvested for the next three years before he has to clear the farm and replant the orchard.

Unfortunately, Muchoki expects the price of the fruits to plummet as the Christmas holidays set in.

"During December, the markets are flooded with seasonal fruits such as plums, mangoes and pears, which affects the prices of other fruits," he says.


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