Saturday, Feb 28th 2015

Passion fruit farming the next frontier in agribusiness

Tuesday, October 30, 2012 - 00:00 -- BY AGATHA NGOTHO
Passion fruit
A farmer in Othaya,Nyeri tend to his passion fruit farm Photo/Wambugu Kanyi

Passion fruit farming is gaining popularity in Kenya but access to information on management of orchards and poor market access stand in the way for many farmers.

Sylvia Mbaabu, a market information systems manager from the Kenya Horticulture Competitiveness project, says there is a huge market in neighbouring Uganda while much of the product is exported to Europe.

“Kenyan consumption of passion fruit at the retail level is low while bananas are the highest. Despite a poor market in Kenya, the demand for Kenya’s passion fruits in Uganda is high and more farmers are taking up this farming,” says Mbaabu.

She says that passion fruits especially from Rift Valley region are preferred in Uganda for their thick skin which makes them have a longer shelf life.

Kenya exports nearly 40,000 tonnes of purple passion fruits a year with over 67.4 per cent going to Uganda.

A kilogramme of passion fruits in Kenya fetches Sh40 to Sh100 depending on the season and the grade one fruits which are best for export fetch from Sh70 to Sh100.

“With training on proper practices of disease management such as crop rotation, many farmers are taking up passion fruit farming and earning a decent income from this,” Mbaabu said during the Third Agricultural Sector Development Forum in Nairobi.

According to a report by Usaid, passion fruit, mango, potato and vegetables are some of the products with a great opportunity for growth in African markets which is a platform for income generation for the smallholders farmers in Kenya.

“Kenya’s export of fruit juice is strong and growing. It is the market leader in East Africa and could become dominant in other Africa markets. Exports of fresh passion fruit to Uganda and fresh mango to Tanzania have also increased significantly over the past three years due to favourable climatic conditions and suitable varieties.”

Lack of clean planting materials is another challenge that passion fruit farmers face. The German Technical Cooperation is implementing the Private Sector Development in Agriculture programme in collaboration with the Ministry of Agriculture, Horticultural Crops Development Authority and Kenya Horticultural Development Program especially in Rift Valley, Central and Eastern Provinces to address and assist farmers in enhancing production of clean planting materials.

Patrick Chege, the programme officer, notes that farmers lack adequate information in orchard management. The programme seeks to correct this through extension officers.

“The accessibility of information in passion farming is critical and through the Ministry of Agriculture, we hope to extend the information to the farmers especially in Eastern and Western regions,” says Chege.

He adds that the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute did a survey and identified one of the major problems facing passion fruit farmers in Kenya is the limitation in producing planting materials.

“To address this, GIZ is supporting the private sector in providing planting materials and establish passion fruit nurseries to farmers in various parts of the country particularly Nakuru, Meru Central, Bungoma, Karatina, Murang’a, Ikolomani and there is one established through the Constitutional Development Fund in Webuye,” he says.

“The limitation has now been addressed and other people have come in to support by providing the materials.” Passion fruit is a perennial fruit which is very popular in the domestic market either used as fresh fruit or for processing into juices.

The major challenge in passion fruit production as noted is lack of clean planting materials free from Fusarium wilt (a soil-inhabiting fungus) which is rampant in the country.

However, Kari has been researching on a screening lab to facilitate production of clean planting materials and provide a workable and practical solution to diseases.

Currently, disease management is limited even with the resources to buy the recommended chemicals but this has not deterred farmers especially from the Western and North Rift regions from venturing into passion fruit farming and some farmers are going large scale.

In Meru region, farmers are using irrigation facilities to grow passion fruits and this is a big advantage as they are able to produce and supply the fruit throughout the year.

“Looking at the activities undertaken so far, it is clear that the project needs up-scaling and most of the farmers have not yet been reached and still face daunting challenges in growing and marketing passion fruit. The nurseries are still far apart and it can only be hoped that able nursery operators will take up the challenge while we will support establishment of demonstration nurseries in areas not previously covered,” Chege says.

“Those with passion fruits on the ground will be trained on management and also be linked with potential buyers of their produce as we encourage more groups to venture into passion fruit production through trainings which will also cover organisation and development for group stability.

The nursery operators will be encouraged to join the nursery operators association which will be assisted to develop a voluntary code of conduct.

The passion fruit growers association will also be supported to start undertaking its activities as had been envisaged during its formation which was aimed at providing quality seedlings to farmers.”

There are two varieties namely, yellow passion which is common in hot areas like Coast, and the purple passion which is grown in Western and North Rift regions.

According to Chege, KARI is in the process of developing other varieties that will provide bigger fruits and are more tolerant to pests and diseases.