Passion fruit commercialisation in Kenya
A 20-year research by Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (KARI) has developed three new passion fruit varieties, Kenya passion fruit number 4 (KPF 4), KPF 11 and KPF 12.
Experts say the new varieties could help lift the economic status of smallholder farmers and contribute to a rapid increase in passion fruit production. The new varieties are not only drought tolerant but are more suited to the fresh market and processing. Although these varieties are of similar physical characteristics with types grown in the coastal region, they are more superior in quality, according to Mr Joseph Njuguna a fruit expert at KARI-Thika.
"The new varieties are sweet unlike those grown in the coast region (Brazil, C5)," he says, adding that they are bigger in size, juicier and more tolerant to soil and foliar diseases.
Mr Njuguna said Kenya has begun to commercialise these varieties. Systems are in place to ensure quality and increased production. KARI will identify community nurseries in warm areas to transfer of the technology to farmers.
A multi-stakeholder project promoting commercialisation of passion fruit in Kenya is at the bulking stage ¬- the phase in which KARI ascertains that there are enough certified seedlings, which are propagated prior to their transfer to farmers. KARI has propagated 30,000 seedlings for distribution in Eastern, Central and parts of
Rift Valley Provinces.
A vegetatively propagated seedling of the new varieties costs Ksh30 (35 US cents) but farmers could also purchase a gramme of seeds at Ksh60 (70 US cents). KARI estimates that a farmer can harvest as much as three tonnes from a hectare of land, while the farm-gate price of a kilogramme of fresh fruit is Ksh20 (24 US cents).
For this project, soft drink gian Coca Cola has offered to buy the passion fruit concentrates from intermediaries for later value addition into quality juices. This, according to Mr Henry Kinyua of Technoserve, is good news to thousands of farmers pegging their hopes on the product at a time when the country's production capacity is below the market demand.
Passion fruit has quick financial returns for both the domestic and export markets because it takes only one year for the crop to mature.
Two more companies - Equity Bank and Sunny Processors - are collaborating with KARI in the project. Equity Bank will provide loans to passion fruit farmers while Sunny Processors will extract concentrates for sale to Coca Cola.
According to KARI researchers, vegetative material is obtained from locally growing varieties which have been bred with a superior strain. Data from KARI shows that two varieties have been predominantly grown in Kenya. The purple passion, the most common which does well in mid-attitude regions, has quick market returns but is susceptible to Fusarium wilt, brown spot and passion fruit woodiness virus complex. Whereas the yellow passion fruit does well in hot regions, it is highly tolerant to soil-borne diseases. The yellow passion fruit‘s strength is in its acidity content and strong flavour.
"The KARI fruit breeding programme initiated activities to improve yellow passion fruit including use of the yellow type as the rootstalk," explains Mr Njuguna.
The passion fruit breeding programme is also supported by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
Fresh produce of passion fruit cultivated in the North Rift Valley, Western and Nyanza Provinces targets the local and regional markets. It is one of the leading commercial enterprises in the North Rift where the area under passion fruit is increasing rapidly. However, farmers in these regions face major challenges with quality planting materials, agronomic and pest and disease management. Diseases of economic importance are passion fruit woodiness virus complex, Fusarium wilt and brown spot. Majority of the growers apply sub-optimal fertilizers.
A local community group in Bungoma Good Neighbours that is supported by KARI, USAID and GIZ (previously PSDA GTZ) is focused on upscaling passion fruit in Western, Nyanza and Rift Valley Provinces. The chair of Good Neighbours Mrs Zippy Simiyu is instrumental in establishing 15 screenhouses for passion fruit production in Rift Valley (6), Western (7) and Nyanza (2) Provinces. Outputs from this initiative are targeting 200,000 households by 2015. To date 350,000 passion fruit seedlings have been distributed in this region. Another initiative spearheaded by KARI-Kitale recently disseminated 12kg of yellow passion fruit (cultivated on approximately 120 acres) and 17kg of purple passion fruit covering about 200 acres that contributes to a total of 360 acres in the North Rift. The bulk of the passion fruit goes to Uganda for juice processing.
KARI-Kitale also sells grafted seedlings and has been offering technical advice to farmers and directing them to registered nurseries such Good Neighbours, ESKAY and Lessos in Bungoma, Uasin Gishu and Nandi.
In Coast Province (Kilifi, Malindi, Kwale, Msambweni and South Coast), two KARI centres (KARI-Mtwapa and KARI-Matuga) have the capacity to train farmers on passion fruit agronomics, crop management practices and propagate various varieties of passion fruit including the yellow passion fruit (dominant variety (Passiflora edulis f. flavicarpa), KPF-4 and C5.
A recent survey spearheaded by Agricultural Business Development in Kwale and Msambweni indicates that over 3,808 passion fruit farmers have cultivated about 425ha of passion fruit or about 707,114 stems. The farmers earned Ksh154 million at farm-gate level and produced about 8,753 tonnes.
KARI research activities have developed passion fruit varieties that are pest and disease tolerant as well as high yielding and suited for coastal region. Genes from the yellow passion fruit which does well in Coast have been combined with the purple highland variety to produce a superior hybrid. The new hybrids have fruit that is sweeter and good for juice processing.
Report By David Njagi, Joseph K. Njuguna, Thomas K. Kwambai, Pole Finyange and Lusike A. Wasilwa
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