As the market for traditional crops become saturated and diseases ravage traditionally lucrative crops like maize and wheat, farmers keen on maximising their income are turning to fruit farming which has seen them more than triple yields and incomes.
From yellow and purple passion fruits, Red Royale pawpaws, bass avocados and apples, vanguard farmers have found gold mines in these fruits with demand coming from both local and international markets.
In Kenya for example a health conscious middle class with an affinity for spending are driving the demand for fruit farming as are soft drink companies who prefer to buy from farmers rather than import the highly priced fruit pulp.
Among the fruits though, passion fruits- both the yellow and purple varieties are a notch higher in the popularity. "Passion fruits are lucrative and easy to make money from. I have been able to expand my orchard relying mainly from the passion fruits proceeds," said Charles Mureithi, a high school teacher and a fruit farmer in Dimcom village in Sipili, Laikipia district.
Charles Mureithi a farmer in Laikipia is among pioneer farmers in fruit farming with an orchard that has mangoes, avocados, apples, oranges, loquat and cherimoya. The passion fruits however stands out. The over 1200 vines are his cash cow.
“Business is good as far as passion fruits are concerned. Infact i am increasing acreage under cultivation of my passion fruit and have already secured four more acres. A quarter of my household spend is catered for by proceeds from passion fruits sales,” said Mureithi who also teaches Swahili at Lanai Day Secondary School.
When he was testing the project three years ago with only 150 passion trees, he could earn Sh80,000 with a kilo fetching Sh30.
And with the lucrative nature of passion fruit business, a group of seven local farmers have moved and expanded their orchards to meet the rising demand for the fruits from neighbouring towns.
"I have been able to educate three students through high school using passion fruits returns. I can comfortably advise that one may well retire and rely on fruits farming in old age", said a middle aged Joseph Gatama, another of the local farmers. A bishop with a local church, Gatama has 250 passion trees on his three-acre farm. "Every two weeks, we are able to sell Sh2,300 worth of passion fruits and I expected to earn more as the newly established orchard comes to maturation," he said.
He remembers a year he was able to make Sh60, 000- a pricey sum for rural farmers- from sale of passion fruits. Locally the passion fruits have two picking seasons the August November and the April-May-June season. The November season has bigger and more fruit that the May one, according to local farmers. However, with the dry conditions that punctuate the semi-arid Laikipia district, the local fruit farmers have to invest heavily in water systems to cushion their valuable fruits.
"We have to construct underground water tanks to store surface runoff for use as irrigation water. A full tank, of five metres wide by five metres depth is able to sustain the orchard till the rainy season," added Mureithi, who has since constructed such a tank of his flat piece of land. On his part, Gatama-with a similar storage facility on his farm- has purchased a water pump and invested in pipes to ferry water to the plants. "An initial investment of less than Sh100,000 is easily recouped once the harvesting season arrives. We are unable to meet demand for fruit as buyers arrive on our farms seeking fresh ripe fruits," said Mureithi.