Superior mango varieties lift Kilifi farmers’ fortunes

Over 2,000 farmers in Kilifi county are recording 10 times more mango yields thanks to five new commercial mango breeds launched by Kenya Agriculture Research Institute, as part of a drive to take the returns from local mango farming to new highs.

The five varieties- Haden, Tommy Atkins, Van Dyke, Sensation and Kent - from Florida in the USA were introduced to farmers who were previously growing conventional mango varieties like Ngoe, Boribo and Apple, which yield at most 200 fruits per tree. The new varieties, by contrast, can yield between 1000 to 1200 fruits per tree.

The coastal area was chosen for the roll-out of the new breeds because of its endemic poverty levels and the economic impact the project would have there, said Lusike Wasilwa, assistant director of horticulture and industrial crops at KARI.

KARI has also developed dwarf varieties for the coastal region, Peach and Sabre, to add to the other five varieties. The dwarf varieties have been developed by grafting superior varieties onto local varieties that do well in the coast to produce high yield varients.

Farmers in the project are also being taught how to add value to their crops through post harvest methods to preserve their fruits. The shelf life of a picked ripe mango is 2 weeks, but farmers can preserve peeled mangoes in sugar saline solution for up to 3 months. This “stops farmers from panic selling at throwaway prices,” said Wasilwa.

In Kenya, industrial and small scale processors process four of the 10 mango products processed worldwide, confining processing to juices, pickles, Indian chutney and jams.  Yet all the 10 products, which include mango paste, puree, pulp and powder, can be processed locally, said Wasilwa.

Next year, KARI aims to help farmers’ process mango powder and package it for selling.

This kind of value addition can deliver farmers far higher earnings than selling freshly harvested mangoes. When sold to formal markets, two mangoes that make up a kilogram sell for Sh5 to Sh20 in season. Yet if these are solar dried and packaged by the farmers, a pack can sell for between Sh120 and Sh150 in supermarkets.

Currently, farmers at Malindi and Kilifi farmers are selling 500gm of locally processed jam for Sh100, locally and at trade fairs. But the farmers are encountering marketing challenges caused by their low volume of production. Wasilwa cites a case where an order for a tonne was made from Saudi Arabia, but farmers were unable to deliver the volume.
Yet there are plenty of reasons to expand in the crop. A hectare of mangoes takes 120 trees spaced at 9 by 9 metres. Five to six months after planting farmers get the first fruits.  However Wasilwa, advises farmers to pluck flowers formed during those months as the tree is not strong enough to hold the weight of those fruits, “until after three years”.

In those three years, farmers can grow subsistence crops, which they cease intercropping after the mango tree cover becomes denser. Mangoes are suited to the most arid regions as their tap roots go deep to get water.

In Kenya 7 out of 8 provinces produce mangoes. But the generally arid eastern region produces 61 per cent of all mangoes, followed by Rift Valley at 30 per cent and Coast, which produces 28 per cent.

Yet world mango production has gone up since 1996, from annual production of 0.4 million tonnes to now over a million tonnes. But only 3 per cent of the harvested mangoes enter international trade. The rest are sold in their local markets.