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Tree smoking gives mango farmers access to early markets, better prices

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Mango farmers are smoking their trees to accelerate their harvests by 20 days and get better prices ahead of the sector’s peak supply.

The practice which has been in use since the 1800s to reduce extreme colds in American fruit farms is now being employed by Kenyan mango growers to hasten flowering, fruit development, and eventually harvests.

“Since I started using smoking to induce flowering my ngowe mangoes are ready two weeks before any of my neighbours. I have brokers flocking my farm paying Sh10 a piece which is three times more than what they go for a month later,” explained Tana River farmer Katana Gandhi.

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During the peak mango-producing month of July in the Coastal county, market oversupply of the fruit in markets means farmers earn as little as two shillings a fruit and contend with post-harvest losses which are estimated to be up to half of the entire crop.

Smoking is done right before the flowering season and preferably during the day to avoid the smoke being easily blown away by strong winds. 

The smoking fire is prepared by burning a heap of covered semi-dry grass or leaves under the shade of a tree. This burning material can also be placed in a metallic can that is moved from one tree to the next.

Tree smoking should be done for at least two weeks to induce flowering. This can pushed to a month or until flowering commences.

Aromatic herbs such as lemongrass can be incorporated into the burning organic material to produce insect-repellent smoke that chases away insects.

“I add a mix of pepper, Mexican marigolds, or tithonia herbal weeds into wilted plant material, grasses, and dried cow dung. The results are great, you can see flying pests dropping like they have been sprayed with an insecticide” Illuminated Katana.

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Smoking can be used to induce flowering and organically reduce pests not only in mangoes but any flowering tree.

It also ensures that most of the fruits mature at the same time avoiding uneven maturity caused by the faster maturing fruits ‘stealing food’ from the slower maturing ones. This leads to a balanced and better harvest.

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