Passion fruit marketing centers tip the scales in favour of farmers

Passion-fruit-marketingOver 1000 passion fruit farmers in Kwale County now have market leverage thanks to recently launched Farmers Produce Collection and Marketing centers, which will allow them to participate in price negotiations, something that has long been the preserve of brokers. The successful move now opens doors to adoption across the country especially to dozens of cash crops which have stalled on market hiccups.

The 20 collection centers, officially opened on the 22nd November 2013 at Manyatta Farmers Produce Collection center and modeled along the traditional marketing cooperatives concept, have set to bridge the yawning deficit between processors’ appetite for fruits and smallholder farmers’ low quantities that have failed to influence market forces. And in a county still struggling to define its flagship cash crop that would steer it to economic stardom, the idea couldn’t have come at a better time. 

Chaperoned by Micro Enterprises Support Programme Trust (MESPT) through its Agricultural Business Development (ABD) program, the project has been built on the emerging tenets of raising agricultural output—better seeds, better farm management and clear market channels. It has assembled major players across the value chain, including farmers, buyers, financial institutions and agro dealers in ensuring satisfaction of all.

MESPT acts as the link and facilitator of the programme by creating a platform where all players meet and agree amicably. “We have embraced fair trade practice in ensuring that the entire process right from planting the seeds to maintaining the quality of the fruit is of the highest quality. We would like our farmers to feel motivated to grow more, and this is by ensuring they get the pay that rewards their efforts while the buyers also get value for their money, and so far we are glad it has worked,” said Mr. Jeff Njagi the CEO of MESPT.

MESPT worked with the farmers in a cost sharing basis to construct the centers, with the institution contributing some Sh1.6 million which saw each center supported with Sh80, 000 while farmers footed a large proportion of the expenses, with each farmer contributing up to Sh3500. “The idea is that we don’t want to give the farmers fish, we want to teach them how to fish. We wanted them to own the centers, to know they have a stake in them and therefore work hard in making them flourish,” added Mr. Njagi.

The Kenya Agricultural Research Institute has been actively involved in developing high yielding varieties like Brazil and CF4 that are also tolerant to diseases and bugs compared to the local yellow passion fruit, while training farmers in orchard management and fruit harvesting. “To get the whole concept of farming passion for business and in order to get farmers to utilize the markets fully we needed to start right from the soils, by ensuring farmers got the right varieties that would eventually yield sellable fruits. That is how KARI came in, and we are proud to say it has been a successful venture,” said Mr. Finyange Pole, the Centre in Charge, KARI Matuga.

The ultimate result has been the increase in fruit supply, which has doubled, and farmer participation through the collection centers over the seasons and change in the supply mode. In the longer season of June to September last year, some 44 metric tonnes of the fruit were delivered through the centers, and now this has jumped to 85 metric tonnes around the same season in 2013.

But it is the collective bargaining power through the centers that have incentivized farmers who are recording a near doubling of the farm gate prices. ALLFRUIT EPZ Limited, a fruit processing company at the Coast used to buy Sh6 - 12 per kilo, but has risen to Sh14 - 25 as the number and consistency in supply stabilized. “We require 10,000 tonnes of passion fruits annually, and the farmers are only managing to supply a paltry 400 tonnes. But such organized centers are giving us hope that we can scale this further upwards.

The centers have become convenient because it means we as the buyers only need one place to collect the fruits, a departure from the past where we could move across households, incurring expenses which affected the final price we paid to farmers,” said Stephen Mutuguta of ALLFRUIT EPZ Limited. Fruit buyers like ALLFRUIT, in a bid to motivate the farmers, also leave Sh1 per every kilo they buy to cater for the centers’ administration expenses. “This goes a long way in not just assisting in the operations of the centers, but in motivating the farmers and cementing the relationship between them and the buyers. ‘’We would urge other buyers who come on board to emulate this trend,” said Clarice Kionge, the Business Development Officer,MESPT.

It is however the convenience in the transport of the fruits that has further attracted farmers like Duncan Musyoka to the collection Centers. Musyoka who doubles up as the center clerk at the Manyatta collection center says that before the centers came to existence, farmers used to transport the fruits together with cashew nuts, oranges and coconuts which would affect the quality by the time they got to the market. “The middlemen would argue that the buyers were buying the fruits at a cheaper rate since they had over ripened or gone bad.

The pay was dismal, so no farmer wanted to venture into passion fruit farming. The centers have been a breath of fresh air to people like me. Farming is my passion, passion fruit farming is my forte,” said Musyoka. Under the model the centers have been instrumental in placing the real value of the fruits grown which allow farmers in deciding how much they should plant. “The fact that buyers agree on a price that the farmers in the collection centers quote, which they would not do if they were buying from individual farmers, means that we have reached another step of serious farming for business, which is one of the cornerstones of lifting our people from poverty.

But it shouldn’t end there. Let’s do value addition: let’s process our own juice, let’s make good use of even the fruit peels. The opportunities are limitless and they can all contribute to improving our household incomes and the economy of our county,” said Hon. Safina Kwekwe Tsungu, the Kwale County Executive member for Industry, Trade and Investment, who was the Chief Guest at the launch of the 20 collection centres.

The centers now open an avalanche of opportunities for other underutilized cash crops in the region like bixa and cashew nuts, which have suffered years of neglect by farmers on poor market price and lack of coordinated agricultural value chain.  The presence of buyers of such crops at the launch of the collection centers like Kenya Bixa Ltd, Kevian Kenya, Wondernuts Ltd, Kenya Nuts Ltd and Equator Kenya Ltd (Buyers of African Bird Eye Chillies) was testament enough to buyers’ growing confidence in the potential of collection centers to improve market efficiencies .

Indeed, a three month trial on supply of cashew nuts through Mwaluvanga collection center to Wondernuts Ltd, Kilifi delivered impressive results having delivered 30 metric tonnes with farmers earning Sh45 a kilo in Jan–March 2013 season, the best price throughout the season.