A 20-year research by the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (KARI) has finally resulted in the development of three new passion fruit varieties: the Kenya Passion Fruit number 4 (KPF4), KPF11 and KPF12.
The varieties, developed at KARI’s Horticultural Research Centre in Thika, are not only drought-tolerant but are also better suited for fresh market and processing.
Though the new varieties’ physical characteristics are similar to those grown at Kenya’s coast, they are superior in quality, says Dr Joseph Njuguna, a fruit expert at the research centre.
“The new varieties are sweeter than the ones that grow at the coast,” he says, adding that they are bigger in size, juicier and more tolerant to diseases.
KPF4 is the sweetest of the new varieties. However KPF11 and KPF12 are higher yielding than KPF4.
According to Dr Njuguna, commercialisation of the varieties is on course.
KARI is expected to identify private nurseries in warm areas in order to facilitate the transfer of the technology to farmers.
The process is at the bulking stage. This is the phase in which the centre makes sure that there are enough propagated seedlings, prior to their transfer to farmers.
The centre has developed 30,000 seedlings. Each will cost Ksh30 (35 US cents) while farmers are expected to buy 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 a kilogramme of the fruit, fresh from the farm, is expected to fetch a bit more.
On the marketing front, the soft drinks giant, Coca Cola has offered to buy passion fruit concentrates from intermediaries for later value addition into quality juices.
This, according to 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 does not meet the market demand.
Market intelligence also indicates that the crop has quick financial returns for both the domestic and export market because it takes only one year to mature.
Two more companies, Equity Bank and Sunny Processors are collaborating with KARI. While Equity Bank is expected to give loans to passion fruit farmers, Sunny Processors will extract the concentrates, which will then be sold to Coca Cola.
According to KARI researchers, genetic material is obtained from locally growing varieties, and then crossed with a superior strain. KARI imports germplasm from
Australia and Brazil then crosses it with local varieties.
Data from KARI shows that only two varieties have been grown in Kenya. The purple passion, which is the most common and does well in mid attitude regions has quick market returns but is susceptible to fusarium wilt. The yellow passion does well in hot regions and that it is tolerant to diseases, but it is only used for the processing market due to its bitter taste.
“The research established that these problems can be contained by breeding the yellow and purple varieties, while using the yellow one as the root stalk,” explains Dr Njuguna.
The passion fruit breeding programme is also supported by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
BY DAVID NJAGI