With much fanfare, last year saw the consecutive announcements of drives to double the wealth of our nation’s fruit farmers, funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and in partnership with Coca Cola. Targeted at smallholders, it’s a project that is built on the emerging tenets of raising agricultural output – better seeds, better farm management and clear market channels.
The base point for the first work with 1000 farmers in Eastern and lower altitude regions of Central Province has been the introduction of a yellow passion fruit variety developed by the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (KARI) to be high yielding, tolerant to diseases and bugs, and to cut growing costs by half, compared to the traditionally farmed purple passion fruit.
The yellow variety released by KARI’s Thika branch took 10 years of research, cross breeding and upgrading with local species. From planting, it takes 9 to 10 months to get the first fruits. “Almost the same time as purple,” said Koori Njuguna, the KARI Project Manager who oversaw its breeding.
But its yields per hectare ranging from 30 to 40 tonnes per harvest compared to 15 for the purple variety. A kilogram of either variety fetches a minimum of Sh18 to Sh20. However, yellow passion farmers, realize higher profits due to lower growing costs, in that the purple passion fruit requires spraying 6 times each fruit season, compared with three times a season for the yellow.
According to KARI reports, the yellow passion fruit is resistant to Fusarium wilt, and tolerant to phytophthora root rot, nematodes, brown spot and woodiness virus.
It is for these reasons that the new seeds have formed the backbone of the four-year project begun last July by Technoserve, and funded by Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Called Project Nurture, the drive is targeted at 37,000 fruit farmers, and aims to double fruit incomes by also achieving best practice in farm management and opening markets for the fruit.
The new seed has made this all the more possible, with industrial fruit processors also opting for the yellow passion over the purple passion, because it is sweeter, less acidic and bigger, meaning it has more juice. In addition, the yellow passion fruit converts into 35 per cent juice, compared with 20 to 25 per cent for the purple passion.
The economic success of the initiative is also being fuelled by Coca Cola buying the harvested passion fruits to make different juices, and co-funding the project with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The other stakeholders include Farm Concern International, Equity Bank, and Real IPM, a pesticide company.
Besides Eastern and Central Provinces, Rift Valley is to be included in the project. For optimum yield the regions selected “have an altitude below 1500m above sea level,” said Henry Kinyua, the deputy Program Manager of Fruits in East Africa at Technoserve.
The yellow passion is expected to do better in coffee growing regions than in cold tea growing areas, where the purple passion remains a better choice.
But for farmers with the right conditions, the returns are substantial. The yellow passion has a productive lifespan of five years compared to three years for the purple and requires a minimum initial investment for a quarter of an acre of Sh20, 000 to Sh35,000 if a drip irrigation kit is included.
With a consistent water supply, a quarter acre can deliver 3000 to 4000 kilograms a season, meaning that if a farmer sells at Sh20 a kilogram, “he can recover the initial investment costs in a harvest,” said Kinyua.
Worldwide, Ecuador is the world’s leading producer of yellow passion fruits, supplying over 70 per cent of the global market. In a year it can produce over 100,000 metric tonnes of the fruit. According to Fresh Fruit Portal 2010 data, Australia is the highest importer of the fruit, at 39 per cent, followed by Chile at 36 per cent and Argentina at 22 per cent.
Written By James Karuga for African Laughter
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