Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Former spy chief finds new passion in fruit farming

Mr Esau Kioni tends to his purple passion fruit plants at his farm in Othaya. Mr Kioni says the fruit is in high demand but the supply is low in the market . The fruit is becoming a favourite with the market for juice making. Photo/Boniface Mwangi.

Mr Esau Kioni tends to his purple passion fruit plants at his farm in Othaya. Mr Kioni says the fruit is in high demand but the supply is low in the market . The fruit is becoming a favourite with the market for juice making. Photo/Boniface Mwangi.  NATION MEDIA GROUP

By BONFACE MWANGI
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After working for the National Intelligence Service and as former President Mwai Kibaki’s security advisor, Esau Kioni retired to his farm in Othaya, Nyeri, where he has been growing passion fruits, a venture that is earning him good money.

In the more than one and half acre piece of land, Mr Kioni has planted the ‘purple’ passion fruit that does well in cold regions.

With his shamba located at the edge of the Aberdare forest, his plantation is doing well and every week, he is able to harvest more that half a tonne of the produce.

“When I made sure that my boss, Mr Kibaki was in safe hands, I decided to retire and venture into farming. However, I had not decided on what type of crop I was going to grow,” says Mr Kioni.

He wanted a crop that would do better than the usual crops that other farmers were growing — maize, coffee and tea.

The 71-year-old father of three says he first tried his hand at tissue culture bananas, which he bought from the Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology.

To diversify he went out searching for another crop to grow and a friend from the same university told him to try the purple passion fruit, which he now says has turned to be a success.

“I only started with a few crops but after I realised they were doing well and the fruits were in high demand, I decided to plant more,” Mr Kioni says.

Mr Kioni says he is unable to satisfy his market in Nairobi, adding that he sells a kilogramme at Sh100.

He however says there are times he hikes his price to Sh180 per kg depending on the availability of the fruit in the market.

To discourage diseases, Mr Kioni practices crop rotation by planting bananas or cabbages before again planting his passion fruits.

The fruit is prone to diseases and this has discouraged many farmers from planting it in large scale.

But Mr Kioni says despite the risk, he had to try his luck.

To avoid transferring diseases from one plant to another, he makes sure to dip his secateurs in Jik detergent to sterilise them while pruning.

Having realised the nutritional and market potential in the fruit, the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (Kari) has developed three new passion fruit varieties, Kenya passion fruit number 4 (KPF 4), KPF 11 and KPF 12, after a 20-year research.

According to a report by The East African Fresh Produce Journal, experts say the new varieties could help lift the economic status of smallholder farmers and contribute to a rapid increase in passion fruit production.

The new varieties are not only drought tolerant but are more suited to the fresh market and processing.

Although these varieties are of similar physical characteristics with types grown in the coastal region, they are more superior in quality, according to Joseph Njuguna a fruit expert at Kari-Thika.

“The new varieties are sweet unlike those grown in the Coast region. They are also bigger in size, juicier and more tolerant to soil and foliar diseases,” he notes.

A multi-stakeholder project promoting commercialisation of passion fruit in Kenya is at the bulking stage, the phase in which Kari ascertains that there are enough certified seedlings for transfer to farmers. Kari has propagated 30,000 seedlings for distribution in Eastern, Central and parts of Rift Valley Provinces.

Soft drink companies, among them Coca-Cola, are encouraging farmers to plant more fruits by promising a ready market. Coca-Cola aims at starting to manufacture packed fresh fruit juices.

Mr Kioni is currently trying out a new type of avocado species that has a longer shelf life and doesn’t grow very tall.

He has started with 200 seedlings of the Hass avocado from the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (Kari) and he says if all goes well, he will plant it in a similar acreage to that of his passion fruits.

“I love farming fruits since they have ready market throughout the year and apart from this advantage, they fetch good money,” says Mr Kioni.

With this kind of farming, he has managed to employ five permanent workers who help him in cultivating and tending to his crops.

mwangib@ke.nationmedia.com