Indigenous fruit tree farming rises to fight malnutrition

Peter Njeru a farmer from Siakago in Eastern Province is part of 27 farmers tapping the potential of indigenous fruit trees for economic benefits. Last year the farmers began adopting grafted indigenous fruit fast maturing trees to replace ones that have grown wildly for ages and produce fruits after 10 years compared grafted that fruit in 2 years.

The farmers are part of an Indigenous Fruit Tree Project run by Kenya Forestry Research Institute (KEFRI) around the country.  According to Rose Chiteva a Research Scientist with KEFRI, these fruit tree projects are mostly in dry areas where food shortages are common and the fruit trees are underutilised. Fruits from the trees also help supplement “food nutrients they miss out in their diet,” she said.

Tamarindus indica, vipex payos and amarula are the indigenous fruit trees the Siakago farmers are harvesting fruits and processing them to make jams and wines. The 27 farmers are growing the 3 indigenous fruit tree varieties in 5 acres in total. Of the 3 Vitex is having the highest economic potential for farmers in Bright Horizon Self Help Group.        

When the Vitex is in season in May/June the 27 farmers are each harvesting a 90 kg bag of the fruit. To complement their value addition venture, the Siakago farmers are getting extra of these fruits from regions like Kitui or Mbeere for between Sh600 to Sh800 a 90Kg bag of Vitex.

With expertise passed to them via KEFRI seminars the farmers are able to make candy, wine and jams they sell locally. Though they would “hope to sell in big supermarkets,” said Njeru if they got approval from the Kenya Bureau of Standards.

Candy, wine and jams are the products made from the community based processing. After processing, one kilogram of Vitex Payos fruits is generating two litres of Vitex Payos wine sold for Sh80 a litre.

From wine value addition farmers are getting nearly 10 times more from a kilogram of processed fruit than selling raw fruits at around Sh8 per kilogram. As wine gets better with age, they are not incurring spoilage losses like in jams due to failure to acquire high end preservatives like sodium.  

A kilogram of Vitex Payos fruits is giving the farmers 2kg of jam made from other products like sugar and lemon. The jams are offering a different preposition as they spoil in around 6 months as the Self Help Group is using accessible and affordable natural preservatives like honey or lemon.

For a 250gm jam they process they sell for Sh35 and for 500gm they sell for Sh50 according to Njeru. For both his profit margin ranges from Sh20 to Sh25. Still “we sell at low prices to get market,” said Njeru. Monthly they sell 40 litres of wine and 20 of jam.

They sell the products to local shops or friends. However the local agricultural ministry in Mbeere and World Bank are some notable clients who make wine orders from Bright Horizon Self Help Group to promote their value addition venture.  

Since the group was registered in 2004 the interest in indigenous fruit tree has grown. Njeru is helping others start up in other Eastern region. Since last year the Siakago farmers have begun adopting grafted varieties that in 2 years begin to flower and produce fruits as opposed to indigenous varieties that mature for harvest after 10 years.  They however don’t require intensive tending as other crops.   

In Kenya according to World Agroforestry Data (ICRAF) data on Indigenous Fruit Tree plants there are over 400 of them. Yet these are sources of vital micronutrients like Vitamin C for communities in arid areas where other staples don’t thrive as well.

In Mwingi an area laden with indigenous fruit trees ICRAF study reported the area has 66 percent crop failure and poverty prevalence is 70 percent.  The study also showed 58 percent of households there protected at least one indigenous fruit tree on their farms.

The micronutrients in these indigenous fruit trees are higher than for ordinary fruits like mangoes and oranges.  The ICRAF study showed Sclerocarya Birrea fruit has 180mg of Vitamin C per 100gm surpassing exotic lemon, mango and orange. Various studies show orange has 50mg to 75mg of Vitamin C per 100gms of the fruit.