Bungoma's growing passion
Farmers in Bungoma have embraced passion fruit farming to increase their income.
Due to its relatively fast maturity period and high market value, it has become an attractive cash crop.
It matures in nine months, and can be harvested four times a year, depending on the availability of rain or irrigation. The traditional purple variety has a lifespan of between three to three-and-a-half years, whereas the yellow variety can last for close to six years.
Most farmers said they have been taken through the various passion fruit farming techniques by HCDA before being supplied with seedlings and seeds for planting.
Most said they have embraced passion as an alternative to maize and sugarcane. They said the switch is partly due to the unstable prices for maize. Maurice Wafula is one such farmer, who has seen the high cost of maize seed and fertilizer lock him out of commercial maize farming.
Wafula says he will cultivate just enough maize for his family but will increase the acreage under passion fruitincreasing his passion fruit from a quarter an acre to two acres.
A farmer from Matisi village Isaac Wafula currently has 200 passion fruit trees on a quarter acre. His crop is the purple variety.
"I had not considered growing passion fruit on a commercial scale, but since fertilizer prices more than doubled and the prices of the produce became unstable, I decided not to grow maize this year," he said.
Diseases and pests are the major challenges Wafula has had to contend with in his first attempt at passion fruit farming. To increase his earnings, Wafula is adding value to his produce by making juice.
From two kilos of passion fruit, he makes five litres of juice that he sells for Ksh250, compared with Ksh100 he could have earned by selling the fruits.
A kilo of passion fruit currently retails at Ksh70 in the Bungoma Market. Unfortunately, with the cost of a single seedling at between Ksh15 and Ksh20, most farmers have been using seeds from mature fruits, thus compromising productivity and the possibility of disease transmission.
Passion fruit has a good market in Britain and the European Union. The Middle East is emerging as another important market. In the country, there is a ready market for the crop as farmers have not been able to meet the ever rising demand.
"I sell the produce in town, and within the locality. Many people are coming from Uganda to buy the fruits, so there is no worry about where I would sell the harvest," Wafula said.
HCDA general manager in charge of marketing Anne Gikonyo says there is a ready market for passion fruit all over the country and in Uganda. She said her organisation is teaching farmers about the latest farming technology in passion fruit to be able to tap into the ready market.
Gikonyo pointed out that her organisation was keen on making passion fruit a second major cash crop to sugarcane for the people of Bungoma.
She argues that for a sustainable passion fruit industry, there is a need to supply clean planting material, and maintain the necessary practices to protect the crop against pests and diseases.
She observes that the bulk of the passion fruit from North Rift and Bungoma goes to Kampala, Uganda, but some end up with exporters in Nairobi, as well as processors or in local markets, supermarkets and hotels for juice making. We are encouraging the establishment and registration of fruit tree nurseries to supply clean grafted planting material of the desired varieties," she said.
HCDA marketing manager Edward Maina said that six new varieties of passion fruit that are high yielding and disease-resistant were developed last year by KARI. This will come to the rescue of farmers like Wafula, who live in areas where traditional cash crops are no longer fetching good money.
With the new varieties, farmers can harvest 50 tonnes of passion fruit per hectare, instead of between 20 and 25 tonnes from the same acreage.
BY NGOBILO NAKITARE