At her farm in Ilula in Eldoret East, Salina KIplagat inspects her passion fruit crop. She has been selling some produce every week for the last six months.
“We used to have to go out looking for buyers, but now they come to us,” she says.
Salina is one of many of smallholder passion fruit farmers in the North Rift region. Over the past few years, they have been producing passion fruit for the seemingly insatiable local market.
According to Ian Chesterman the National Director of USAID’s Passion fruit project KHCP, experts are trying to determine the next steps in improving the quality of output. “We need to capture the export market because the prices are much better.” At the moment only about 10% of passion fruit from Kenya makes it to the international market. The situation in Zimbabwe is a huge contrast. For one, most of the fruit – 80-90% – is exportable. Most of the farming is large scale, and under deep irrigation as opposed to the Kenyan situation where most farmers are small holders and rely on rain water. Bruising of fruits due to abrasion by contact with tree branches is eliminated by using fishneting from which the fruit hang. This ensures that the fruit does not suffer trauma from banging against the branches. This causes blemishes that cause the fruit to be rejected. Farmers are able to extract pulp from unsold fruit and freeze it immediately for sale later.
During a seminar on enhancing the performance and impact of purple passion fruit in Kenya, stakeholders discussed ways of adapting ideas from Zimbabwe for use in Kenya.
Salina is talking about traders – also known as brokers – who move from farm to farm buying passion fruit from farmers for the local market. They are not very selective and their prices are often exploitative, but they play an important role in the market chain, collecting fruit from multiple smallholders in rural areas and selling it to processors or exporters.
We are curious to find out whether the buyers select fruit according to say the size of the fruit, color or presence of blemishes. “No. They just measure the weight. They mix all types of fruit,” Salina Kiplagat who has been harvesting her fruit for the past one year says.
“The fruit is damaged because of repeatedly hitting against the stalks,” she explains when we ask about some fruit that appear damaged.
She has not come up with a way of eliminating the problem. But it is not very urgent, since she can still sell her produce to local traders. Even if she was to produce export quality fruit, most exporters prefer dealing with larger farms.
Salina and her husband, Ben Kiplagat are fortunate to access certified seedlings from Beliomo United Self Help Group of which she is a member. “The availability of clean planting material is a great challenge,” explains Elizabeth Yegon, the DAO Eldoret East. Yegon says that water harvesting and irrigation are areas of great potential in this region, adding that there are no reliable information systems for farmers, most of whom rely on brokers.
Seedling nurseries are registered by the HCDA and then certified by KEPHIS.
Geoffrey Nyamota, KHCPs leading adds that there are still huge gaps in production of clean planting material. “We need more nurseries in this region. Availability of clean planting material is still a great challenge,” he says.
FPEAK, the Fresh Produce and Exoerters Association of Kenya is now trying to produce a national business plan for production of Avocado, Mango and Passion fruits. Sit has already conducted an international market survey to show where Kenya is in the international market.
Most passion fruit produced locally ends up in shops and dukas, hawkers, and supermarkets who sell. Most of the produce is not processed. A lot of it ends up in Kampala but very little is exported. Industry players eye the export market because it is more lucrative. They also want to have more processors in Kenya to reduce over reliance on the Ugandan market.
Accessing the international markets demands compliance to standards, according to Nicholas Ambanya the General Manager of East Africa Growers, a company that exports passion fruit.
These standards include traceability, the quality of propagati0n material, the site history and management, techniques used in applying fertilizer, quality of irrigation water used, use of intergrated pest management, plant protection, harvesting, how produce is handled, record keeping and Internal self assessment. Workers are also supposed to be trained on health and safety.
“Many farmers cannot pay for the cost of putting up structures like stores, toilets and grading sheds, all of which are necessary for certification,” Ambanya explains. “Others do not have the right equipment, or cannot pay the certification fee, or they have little technical expertise. IN some cases farmers are unaware of or unable to comply with MRLs. They may not use approved pesticides and may not use calibrated equipment when applying pesticides. Others do not adhere to pre harvest intervals, harvesting fruit too soon after spraying,” he says. MRLs for passion fruit are very low and there are very few chemicals approved by the PCPB for spraying on passion fruit. Again, some of the chemicals that are approved internationally may not necessarily be approved locally. This complicates production.
Ambanya says that farmers need training on compliance and that small scale farmers will need even more help to comply.
The European Union has high unmatched demand almost all year round all because market requirements are not met.
“We just do not have enough quality and safe fruits,” laments Ambanya. Many fruits are rejected on account of uneven coloration, small size of fruit, blemished skin, chemical residue, uneven shape and inability to certify the source of the seedlings.
As a result, most of the fruit produced in Eldoret is loaded on trucks and taken to Kampala. Moses Keitany, the Marketing Director of Equatorial Hortifresh Limited says that the passion fruit industry in the North Rift is heavily dependent on Kampala. “Kampala takes 75-80% of fruits grown by farmers,” he says. The company mostly distributes the fruit in the local and regional market. “We also take fruit to Mombasa and Nairobi.
Salina is not able to produce a consistent amount of fruit because she relies on rain water. “We cannot afford irrigation. We have to wait for rains.”
At first, she only sold 14 kilograms of fruit per week. Production increased to a peak of 139 kilograms but has now gone down to only 30 kilograms a week.
“I am happy,” she declares. At least we have been able to pay for things like school fees using the money from the farm.
Salina is the chair of Beliomo United Self Help Group in Eldoret East, a group of 12 individuals that came together in 2010 to undertake farming activities.
“We started off with a tree nursery,” explains Joel Limo, a member of the group. “Later on we got into passion fruit farming which is much more lucrative. Now we produce passion fruit seedlings, although we still grow trees.”
The trees have been useful for fuel, as windbreakers and also as poles. As we approach the greenhouse, a man stops Joel and asks to buy some timber for firewood.
“Each of us has his or her own passion fruit farm, although we all buy seedlings from our nursery at a subsidized price,” Limo continues.
The group is diverse, with men and women. “The youngest are in their twenties and the oldest has retired,” he says when asked about age.
Beliomo United has insured itself against rainfall patterns by putting up a borehole which they use when there is drought.
They raised Sh 50,000 to start off the project. USAIDs KHCP project filled in the rest of the money.