Passion fruit farmers in the Shimba Hills area of Coast province have doubled their fruit production and increased sales six-fold thanks to a simple, low-cost innovation made from bamboo and wire grid that has delivered bumper harvests of top quality, and affirmed the huge potential yellow passion fruit production in Coast region.
Until now, production has been largely uncompetitive due to poor crop husbandry techniques and the lack of access to quality seedlings.
Farmers have traditionally let the fruit vines grow uncontrolled up a tree or shrub, and climbed the tree to shake the fruits down during harvesting. As the fruits cluster around the trees, they suffer from overcrowding, meaning the fruits cannot grow optimally, affecting yields, and increasing the risks of diseases and pests.
However, the low cost innovation dubbed trellising, which can be replicated for any climbing plant, is allowing farmers to maximise production on small pieces of land, while making harvesting simpler.
Farmers put the bamboo wood stakes at the ends of the passion fruit rows with about 6 feet sticking out of the ground. Then a stick is tied at the top of each stake to connect them. The farmers tie wire grid onto the cross bars with old pieces of bailing twine so that the wire grid dangles down to the passion fruit. This is done for each plant.
“We encourage the use of bamboo, since it can stand for long and is not affected by mites. It can stand for even four years, and again its readily available here,” said JB Njeru, one of the trainers involved in the trellising project.
The fruits climb the grid and because it dangles, it makes it easier to harvest them, reaching between the plants as they sway freely.
The innovation has now allowed farmers to increase the number of vines planted per acre, to an average 600 vines compared with 300 per acre using the old methods. The vines are also producing more fruit, typically 7800 kilos of yellow passion fruits per season worth some Sh156,000, compared to 1200 kilos per season worth Sh24,000 using the old methods.
“I can now manage to dedicate my two acres of land into yellow passion farming and then use the rest for other forms of farming like growing maize for consumption. You see, before, we were just practising confused farming, we never knew we needed to give the fruits ample space to grow, we just let them grow anyhowly,” said Tuna Maitha one of over 1,000 farmers in Coastal region who have embraced trelising.
The impressive jump in yields has now additionally enticed juice processors like Milly Fruit Processors, Sunny Processors and Frigoken to the area. Frigoken has built a juice processing plant with the capacity to process 3,000 metric tonnes of the fruit per month in the area, bound for the export market.
Written by Bob Koigi for African Laughter