Passsion fruit shortage hits soft drink companies

Farmers can meet the sharp soft drink market demand by growing high-yielding passion fruit varieties developed by Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organization KALRO) five years ago.
A 10-year research by the State agency yielded three varieties KPF11, KPF12 and KPF4, which produce twice as much as the common purple species per 2.5 acres.
Speaking to Farmbiz Africa on telephone, KALRO’S Horticulture Research Institute officer Peter Mburu,  said the new varieties can produce 12-16 tonnes per 2.5 acres while the purple one yields between six to eight tonnes in the same piece of land.
The Thika-based researcher said the 2011 varieties are sweeter, bigger and less acidic, features lacking in the commonly grown purple type.
Mburu said KALRO came up with the varieties to help farmers meet the local demand from soft drink companies, which are importing passion fruit concentrates majorly from South Africa.
Failed project
He added that those varieties are resistant to various passion fruit diseases including fusarium wilt, brown spot, woodiness viruses and nematodes.
He gave an example of a five year failed project that was sponsored by US' Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which could have alleviated the shortage.
In the project, farmers were funded to grow and sell their yields to global soft drink giant Coca Cola.
He explained that in spite of high yielding varieties, funding and ready market, the 2011-2015 project, which targeted  37,000 passion fruit farmers in the country failed because they never produced enough fruit to sustain Coca Cola's local demand.
The increased demand coupled with better prices-with a kilo of passion fruit retailing  between Sh80 and Sh100-makes passion fruit farming a viable venture.
It can give farmers triple earnings as opposed to crops like maize, which is mostly  grown by smallholder farmers.
Seedlings for these multiple yielding varieties are available in the  various KALRO offices across the country at Sh30 per piece.