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Farmers abandon dry maize for juicier passion fruit

By Michael Ollinga | February 14th 2015 at 00:00:00 GMT +0300

A new farming wave is sweeping through Uasin Gishu County an erstwhile maize, wheat and dairy zone. We are talking passion fruit farming.

More farmers are embracing it because it requires a small acreage, relatively affordable inputs and is less demanding with quick and significant returns.

One of the farmers who has made the switch is Philemon Kiptum, a farmer in Kaptuli.

He says: “Maize prices have gone down by 40 per cent, yet the cost of production is still high so it is no longer a profitable venture. That is why I opted for passion fruits, which I have planted on my one acre shamba.”

According to Kiptum who was once a maize farmer, many of his neighbours have also started growing passion fruits instead of good old maize on their small parcels of land.

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Ishmael Kipkare, one of his neighbours, has dedicated his one and a half acre land for growing passion fruits.

“This crop is the future for farmers who want to make money,” he says with excitement.

His other half acre has stems, which are just flowering and about to fruit. Another one acre has completed its yielding cycle and he is contemplating on putting a new crop when the rains begin to fall.

Kipkare has been growing passion fruits for the last five years and he says the crop has not let him down, despite the challenge of pests and diseases.

“This half an acre piece that has slightly more than 600 seedlings, can give you sixfold what you get on a three-acre planted with maize in one season,” Kipkare says.

He says the crops take six months from planting time to maturity and harvesting can last between three to four weeks.

“Given good weather conditions, I can harvest between 280kgs and 330kgs per week. When sold between Sh100 and 110 a kilo, this yield fetches me between Sh29,000 and Sh34,000 per week. That is what I could get from an acre of maize after a year,” says Kipkare.

He says the fruits in his one acre have completed the yielding cycle and could fetch him up to Sh60,000 per week for eight consecutive weeks, which could total to Sh480,000 for the first two months of production. This is when market prices are good.

On the contrary, it will take at least six acres of maize to harvest 160 bags that when sold at Sh3,000 per bag will fetch Sh480,000. The cost of cultivating the land and inputs for the said maize acreage is approximately Sh180,000 unlike the one acre of passion fruits that will cost around Sh80,000 on the higher side.

Francis Kipruto, another passion fruits farmer and a trader in the area says passion farming is rewarding. Kipruto is even contemplating to increase his acreage of the crop and quit maize growing.

“My passion fruits, which occupy an acre, can sometimes fetch me up to Sh600,000 after harvesting, which is a season of four months. The cost of production is eight per cent of the returns. But for maize, you cannot fetch such huge returns,” he says.

Kipruto who had just acquired a stock of passion fruits worth Sh1.2 million for sale in Uganda, says farmers are selling the crop to local markets and middlemen who ferry the produce to Nairobi.Ugandan and Tanzanian traders are also traveling to Uasin Gishu for the produce, which is mainly sought after in most East African countries for juice production.

“Every week, more than five trucks from Uganda come here to get the fruit. Sometimes they exploit us, it would be good to have a local processing firm so that we can fetch better prices,” says Kipruto.

According to the farmers, they produce approximately 10,000 tonnes of the fruits per season, which is sufficient to sustain a processing firm. In order to get the full benefits of value addition, they are calling on the county government to help them establish a juice factory. Juicy as the venture might be, there are some serious challenges that are discouraging.

Elkanah Maiyo, a farmer, says the crop has failed to hit its peak production due to a disease popularly known as ‘kangumu’, which makes the fruits harden.

“The disease is a headache to farmers because it affects the grading of the fruit. Fruits that have been attacked by the pest cannot be ranked as Grade one, which fetches good money in the market. Herbicides do not even help,” he says Maiyo. He attributes the problem to the seeds, which are locally sourced. To address the disease problem, Uasin Gishu County Director of Agriculture Joseph Cheboi, advises farmers to get seeds and other inputs from certified and reputable sources like Horticultural Crop Development Authority and Ministry of Agriculture officials.

Cheboi says passion cultivation is an upcoming enterprise although production is hampered by the incidences of diseases such as woodiness virus (Kangumu), and brown leaf spot.

“We encourage farmers to venture in passion fruits production because it is lucrative,” he says.

For farmers who want to venture in this agri-business, he advises them to acquire farm inputs as groups to reduce production costs and to take advantage of expertise of extension officers to improve their producing levels.

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