Julius Mutio, a middle aged man from Makueni county, is making a kill from mango and orange fruit farming.
His mango farm sits on two acres, with 120 mango tree, and he has also planted 100 orange trees on another farm.
He is among 300 fruit farmers who have benefited from training in new technology of spraying, harvesting, storage and transporting to markets.
Many small scale farmers have on average 50 mango trees or less and do not make much money owing to exploitation by middlemen or losses arising from fruit fly.
Mutio says he affords to feed his family and cater for all their expenses without having to take debts.
"I have been selling tonnes of mangoes to regional markets through the programme with Yieldwise,” he said during an interview at his farm.
For the past three years, Mutio has been harvesting up to 10 tonnes of mangoes per season, which translates to more than Sh200,000 in income.
Due to the growing demand for mangoes in domestic, regional, and international markets, and the relatively high profitability to farmers, Kenya’s mango industry has expanded considerably over the last six years, in both acreage and geographical spread.
According to a 2014 Financial Sector Deepening report, Kitui, Makueni and Machakos counties contribute about 37 per cent of national mango production, and mangoes contribute about 22 per cent of farm household income among the region’s mango-growing families.
Acreage under mango production has more than doubled from 23,407 hectares in 2007, to 57,021 hectares in 2012, the report says, with estimated volumes growing from 384,460 tonnes to 754,702 tonnes over the same period.
The fresh fruit market takes more than two thirds of Kenya’s total mango production, with urban markets taking the largest share. This trend is anticipated to continue due to rapid urban growth in Kenya, currently estimated to be around four per cent per annum.
Yieldwise, with support from Rockefeller Foundation, introduced a harvesting technology which avoids the old method of shaking up the tree for the fruit to fall down.
The harvesting pouch made of meshy net is attached to a long stick, then used to pull off each fruit from the tree. The fruits are then placed on a sack to enable sap to drain off without dirtying the mango.
He is optimistic that he will make more money by the end of the mango season in early March and oranges, whose season peaks from April till November.
His 100 orange trees are in two varieties, the Washington Navel and Valencia, all which produce oranges for six months.
Supporting organisations such as Meru Greens provide continual monitoring of the crop, reminding farmers about tending to their crops on time. Other value addition services that farmers are taught include agronomy, governance and market linkages.
Farmers are also learning new methods of improving life of the ripe fruit. At the moment, an American technology that involves dipping the harvested fruit in a form of preservative is under pilot test in the area.
Once approved for commercial use, the technology will save up to 50 per cent of mangoes by coating their skins with a preservative that will slow down water loss and therefore preserve its for up to a month.
Farmers in the area have also benefited from a solar-powered cooling facility where they can store their fruits for up to one week before buyers come to pick them up.
"It contains a solar panel that produces 360 kilowatts of electric power and a control room to regulate the refrigeration functions. The facility has been built on pilot programme and can hold up to three tonnes of fruits, packed in crates,” Mutio explains.