Mango factory springs hope in 4,000 farmers

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Large swathes of mango farms with trees weighed down by huge fruits line up the Kawanjara-Ishiara road off Embu town. Large fruits of the Tommy Atkins variety which hang on thin branches, a few inches off the ground, are an appealing spectacle.

Sometimes, the plenteous harvest is a painful sight when farmers helplessly watch as ripe fruits fall and rot away on the ground.

Others endure a lengthy unyielding wait under the scorching sun at Karurumo, a local shopping centre, where they display their produce for sale but find no one to buy the fruits in an area where almost everybody has a mangofarm.

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Still, there are those who work through middlemen to find market for their fruits. Their turmoil at the hands of the exploitative middlemen isn’t less grave. They easily accept as low as Sh3 for mangoes that fetch as high as Sh60 in Nairobi.

But last Tuesday was a new dawn on the farmers who have been on the receiving end of post-harvest losses and exploitation for ages.

Cut post-harvest losses

When the farmers heard of the launch of a mangoprocessing project at the heart of the county, they were thrilled. Rightly so. They thronged the launch at a two-acre farm donated by a local decade-old farmers’ self-help group.

The timely project, dubbed ‘Small-Holder Aggregation and Processing Centre, is a combination of eight technologies researched on by faculty and masters students at the University of Nairobi and Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology (JKUAT).

Leading the research team on the project funded by the Rockefeller Foundation, is Dr Jane Ambuko, a horticulturist and postharvest expert at UoN.

Dr Ambuko says the pilot project was the first in a series of others to be be replicated across the county to help farmers have maximum turnovers from their labour.

Maximum turnovers

“What the university has brought to this area is technology. We hope the county government and investors will come on board to ensure that many such projects are replicated not just in this county but in other fruit-producing areas,” says Dr Ambuko.

She says the project was to curtail the 50 per cent post-harvest losses reported in the mango value chain. To start off, the university identified Karurumo Self-Help Group formed in 2003. Group chairman Alloys Mbogo says they have come a long way.

“More than 50 of us started this project but at the moment, there are only a few of us remaining. Now that it has come all this way, the project will serve many farmers,” says Mbogo.

Of the 53 farmers who started the project to dry bananas for banana flour, only 15 who attended the launch. The rest dropped out when they could no longer shoulder mandatory contributions.

Mbogo says he met Dr Ambuko when she visited the group in May last year, announcing that she had identified a sponsor willing to support them install more efficient value addition equipment at the centre.

How it works

The project is a combination of two units — a preservation unit complete with pre-cooling technology and a processing unit where fruits are processed into different commodities.

It also has a storage room where processed commodities are kept waiting sale. For preservation, the centre has two types of coolers — a brick one and one made from charcoal to lengthen the fruits shelf-life.

The brick one, dubbed the Zero Energy Brick Coolers (ZEBC), is a system bricks, sand and water pipes running through them. Sand is placed between two columns of bricks with water pipes running between them.

As the water drips through the sand and evaporates, it takes away heat from the stored produce and the surrounding environment,” explains Gerald Ndonye, a Masters student pursuing Food Safety and Quality at UoN.

A research student in the project, Ndonye says the process produces a cooling effect around fruits and reduces spoilage rate. He says the Evaporative Charcoal Cooler (ECC) works on a similar principle of evaporation. The charcoal cooler is a room with charcoal also fitted with water pipes. As the water drips on the charcoal and evaporates, it takes away the heat around the fruits.

Cooling the fruits

The cooling facilities at the centre have the capacity to hold three to four tonnes of mango fruits at a time.

Five weeks in the cooler

When Smart Harvest toured the facility, the charcoal cooler alone had 250 crates each holding 40 mangoes.

There were about 10,000 pieces of mangoes in the cooler. The innovators explain that ripe mangoes can stay for up to five weeks in the cooler without getting spoilt compared to the paltry 15 days they stay unpreserved.

“This way, farmers can sell when the fruits are off-season. They also have grounds to negotiate better prices without fear that the fruits can go bad,” Dr Ambuko says.

Apart from the cooling chambers, the centre has a processing area where fruits are made into juice, crisps and flour. First there is the wet processing room where juices are made. To get to the wet processing room, fruits are first weighed and sorted into quality mangoes. Damaged ones and those infested by fruit fly are disposed of.

The next stage of sorting identifies mango types that are suited for various kinds of products. There are those suited for juice while other are best for drying. It is at this stage that the fruits are also washed in running water.

In the wet processing room, there is a table for peeling mangoes which are also cut into small pieces. It is here that passion is scooped out of the husks to make juice. Sliced fruit is then put in a juice extractor that squeezes the juice out.

The extractor has a pipe that lets out waste. According to Dr Ambuko, the waste from fruits can be dried and milled into animal feeds. The juice is then collected on big trays and sieved to remove solid particles. It is then passed into a mixing machine where it may be mixed with ingredients such as sugar and citric acid.

Preservatives are also added at this stage. According to one’s preferences, water is also added at this level. Others may want the juice concentrated. It is then poured into a pasteuriser, connected to a power source, where heating to about 75 degrees celsius takes place. Dried chips

The innovators say the heating removes contamination and further dissolves the added ingredients. Heated juice is then pumped to a packaging tank and filled in bottles that are pre-sterilised with hot water. The bottles are then sealed and labeled. When 200 kilos of fruits are led into the wet processing room, about 80 kilos of concentrated juice come out.

At the centre, a 500ml bottle of juice is sold at Sh100. At the launch, it was noted that the factory will be buying mangoes from farmers at Sh10, up from the Sh3 they are sold to middlemen.

Finally, there are two tunnel solar dryers where mangoes are processed into dried chips.

Article by: Aaineah@standardmedia.co.ke

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