Fruit trees ripening fortunes

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As more and more farmers in the North Rift region embrace horticulture farming, so has demand for fruit seedlings grown.

In view of this, several stakeholders in the industry among them the Horticultural Crops Development Authority (HCDA), Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Service (KePHIS), Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (KARI) and the Ministry of Agriculture have rolled out trainings in the region to encourage more farmers to take advantage of this business opportunity.

They have already trained tens of nursery farmers in the North Rift region on the production of fruit seedlings in order to meet overwhelming demand for planting material.

According to HCDA’s Barnabas Kiptum, the farmers have been taken through the fundamentals of fruit tree nursery operations.

The farmers were taken through the basics of book keeping and sensitized on the money making opportunities in producing fruit seedlings.

“We have had over 40 farmers learning more about passion, avocado, tree tomato, and strawberry seedling production,” said Kiptum. “We were targeting on issues of how to best manage fruit tree nurseries, principles of propagation, pest and disease management, as well as nursery practices in relation to GlobalGap, nursery legislation, management of group owned nurseries as well as group dynamics in nursery management.”

And to get maximum yield, the seedlings demand proper care right from nursery bed preparation, propagation to planting. Correct spacing and watering of the seeds are paramount to facilitate proper and uniform growth of the seedlings.

One should plant the seed by pressing it down firmly in the soil and then cover the nursery with grass or a polythene sheet. Once the plants emerge, monitor regularly and thin out the ones that are too weak. Transplanting should also be done carefully to avoid damaging the young crops.

“Fruit nurseries can be very profitable if well managed,” said Kiptum. “There is high demand for fruit seedlings in the North Rift especially at the onset of the rainy season when farmers prefer to start new orchards.

Passion fruit grafting for instance, is one crop proving to be a goldmine for nursery operators in the region. In a greenhouse measuring 6 by 30 meters a farmer can earn a whopping Sh 1.2 million within 6 months from an initial investment of Sh.360, 000.

One is required to put up the greenhouse including the shade net at a cost of Sh.150, 000. The farmer will require 2kgs of yellow passion fruit seeds at a cost of KSh12, 000 and 1kg of purple passion fruit seeds costing KSh 2,000. The purple passion fruit is the scion while the yellow passion serves as the rootstalk.

A truck of forest soil will set the farmer back some Sh.10, 000 while a truck of manure will cost KSh 5,000. Polytubes will cost KSh 6,000 and labor for filling the tubes with the manure and forest soil will go for KSh 20,000. One money maker super irrigation kit will cost KSh 12,000 while hose pipe irrigation will cost KSh 5,000.

The project will require casual laborers at a cost of Sh.48, 000 and grafting 30,000 purple passion fruit on to the yellow passion stalk will cost Sh.90, 000 at Sh.3 each.

With the right care, such a project would produce 30,000 passion fruit seedlings which retail for KSh 40 per seedling yielding a gross profit of KSh 1.2 million. After deducting the expenses, one stands to gain a net profit of Sh.840, 000.

According to USAID-funded Kenya Horticulture Competitiveness Project (KHCP) regional director Geoffrey Nyamota, horticulture farming is ideal for farmers with small pieces of land since it offers better profit than grains. The training included a visit to Rupa Farm Limited, a 30 acre farm located in Eldoret. The farm exports chilies, tomatoes and other horticultural produce to foreign market. It also supports local farmers by supplying clean planting material and buying their produce. The firm is run by brothers Ajay Shah and Ravi Shah.

“Planting is easy. Maintenance is the real challenge for most farmers. It takes commitment and resources to properly look after your crop,” Ajay told the farmers as they toured the immaculately maintained fields and nurseries. He advised the farmers to start from the market and work backwards in order to avoid disappointments. “Identify the market for your crop before you begin production.”

Rupa has been in operation since 2011 but within this short time the farm has quickly established itself as the best farm of its kind in the North Rift.

The land was purchased in March 2011 and operations have been so successful that the company is looking to acquire additional land. “We started with 1 or 2 greenhouses of passion fruit to test the market. When we saw that the prospects were good, we expanded to 18 greenhouses and we plan to have more than 30 greenhouses in future for all our products,” says Francis Mwanza, a consultant at the farm. “We have increased our passion fruit orchard to 27 acres and started a fruit tree nursery which registered with HCDA and certified by KePHIS.”

They can produce 100,000 passion fruit seedlings every year, and have so far sold 28,000 grafted passion fruit seedlings. These sales are impressive because they were all made during the dry season when most farmers are not buying seedlings. During the rainy season sales are expected to increase as majority of farmers who rely on rain will be buying.

The farm intends to expand its range of fruits. “We are also going into production of temperate fruit seedlings; peaches, apples, pears, avocado, plums and mango.”

Rupa also grows chilies for export. They produce hot chilies, birds eye chilies, bullet chilies, as well as long red cayenne.

“We plan to start providing our farmers with chili seedlings,” says Mwanza. “The farmers will buy the seedlings from us and we will buy the ready chilies from them.” Mwanza is pleased with the performance of the chilies. He describes the performance of the chilies as ‘unbelievable’ and ‘beyond expectations.’

Rupa opted to develop their own greenhouses instead of buying from the suppliers in the country. “Our greenhouses are cheap and they suit local conditions,” says Mwanza. The farm management experimented with different dimensions before arriving at the best height for optimum ventilation. Raised beds are used to improve on hygiene.

Listening to Mwanza talking, it is easy to see why Rupa farm is so successful. It is clear that the management is extremely keen on hygiene for example Joel Limo, a passion fruit farmer in Illula near Eldoret says that using grafted passion fruit seedlings makes a big difference for any passion fruit farmer.

“Some diseases like fusarium wilt are eliminated and the fruit is of better quality. The harvesting period is also longer (4 years instead of 2). Production volumes are also higher,” Limo says. The pulp from grafted passion fruit is a nice yellow colour which looks very attractive. He only needs to spray regularly against woodiness

 

BYJOYCE SAMBU