Researchers from the University of Nairobi and Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology, in partnership with the Rockefeller Foundation, a body that promote the well-being of humanity throughout the world are seeking to help mango farmers to avoid about 45% post-harvest losses that the farmers have been facing in the past years.
Through YieldWise initiative which was started by Rockefeller Foundation in 2016, the researchers plans to have the smallholder mango farmers grouped in various farmer groups to make it possible to meet the quantity, quality and consistency of produce required by buyers.
According to the market research done last year about mango market prices during the fruit’s peak period, most traders buy mango fruits at a meagre three to five shillings each at the farm gate and sell at Sh60 each in bigger markets in Nairobi and Mombasa among others.
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Farmers are forced to sell the fruits at a throw-away price due to fear of lacking market that may lead to a total loss since the fruit is highly perishable once it is harvested and ripped. This makes farmers fully depend on the traders’ mercies which the researchers seek to solve and give the farmer better return for his work.
So far two training and support centres have been establish in major mango production counties such as Machakos and Embu to act as one-stop shops that showcase post-harvest technologies and innovations that farmers can adopt to reduce post-harvest losses.
The technologies include the technologies for harvesting, storage, packaging, shelf-life extension, smallholder processing, among others. Let’s look briefly at the two pilot centres.
One centre belongs to Masii Horticultural Farmers’ Cooperative Society in Machakos where farmers do not need electricity power to run their processing facility but instead use Evaporative Charcoal Cooler (ECC) and a series of Zero Energy Brick Coolers (ZEBC).
Here the facility runs on evaporative cooling principle where when water evaporates from the wet charcoal and sand in the ECC and ZEBC, respectively, it takes away heat from the stored produce to the surrounding environment.
This results in a cooling effect and increases relative humidity around the stored produce both of which slow down spoilage of fresh produce stored in it such as fruits or vegetables.
These cooling facilities heve have the capacity to hold three to four tonnes of mango fruits at a time and the farmers using the facility have been equipped with the necessary skills that have since seen them sell their fruits at six to ten shilling from the previous three to five shillings.
On the other hand Karurumo Smallholder Horticulture Aggregation and Processing Centre in Embu County is a fully set centre with facilities for improving the shelf-life of fresh produce besides small-scale wet and dry processing activities.
The facility has zero energy brick cooler and evaporative charcoal cooler similar to those in Masii but in addition, the centre has a cool-bot cold room which is a low-cost alternative to a conventional cold room.
Farmers bring their produce here where they are sorted and graded as per market specifications then pre-cooled in the evaporative coolers to eliminate the field heat prior to storage in the coolbot cold room.
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This centre’s facility has a capacity to dry one tonne of high quality dried mango chips in one loading.
The two centres have been introduced on pilot scale with goal of replicating them in other regions in Kenya. This will require the support of the county governments and development partners.
Mango which one of the major fruit in Kenya is wet-processed into diverse products including pulp, mango concentrate and ready to drink juice. Processing can transform unsold fresh fruits into shelf-stable products to be sold at better prices later.