Those traveling along the Embu- Ishiara road are attracted by the breath taking scene of countless mango trees doting many acres of land.
The area marks the hotspot of mango farming in Embu County where every first quarter of the year mango trees sag under the weight of both ripe and unripe fruits. The main types of mangoes grown here include Kent, Tommy, Vandeik and indigenous types which thrive well because of the favorable climatic condition of the area.
Every day, it is common sight to behold motorcycles, pickup trucks and lorries ferrying bags of mangoes to various destinations.
While a medium-sized, grafted mango fruit fetches 20 shillings and above at the market, many a consumer would think the farmers are smiling all the way to the bank. It is only the large scale farmers who are able to sell their fruits in far away markets in bulk who make good money.
Many small scale farmers have on average 50 mango trees or less and do not make much money owing to exploitation by middlemen or losses arising from fruit fly.
Martin Mureithi who hails from Kavai in Karurumo location has 100 mango trees and points out that though mango farming is cost friendly, they have not been able to make enough money. "Even for the large sized mangoes, the brokers offer between 4 shillings and 6 shillings. We have to sell at that price since you cannot store mangoes like maize crop and wait for prices to improve.
The brokers then sell the mangoes to traders at as high as 35 shillings making good money," says Mureithi. He says the supply of the fruit has increased in the market as farmers from other parts of the country like Meru and Kamba compete to have a share of the mango market.Mureithi says farmers are now banking on maximizing growing of Kent variety which fetches a better price.
Farmers in Karurumo area have teamed up under Kavai Horticultural Mangoes with the aim of extending their marketing network. "As a group, we are trying to maximize on better production and market of mangoes. Mango trees do not affect cultivation of other crops making it easy for farmers with small pieces of land to cultivate," says Mureithi.
The farmers are set for better times ahead as there are plans to put up a mango factory in the area. The Ministry of Agriculture has also embarked on a plan aimed at cushioning the farmers against the fruit fly which has been a thorn in their flesh.
Robert Munyi, Kieni's Division Agricultural Extension officer says they plan to get high quality mangoes which can produce enough for sale locally and internationally. Mango farmers in the country raked in 180 million shillings in the first quarter of last year. The improved production was facilitated by the Project Nurture which is an initiative of Techno serve who are buying each kilo of mangoes at 10 shillings.
Techno serve seeks to ensure farmers productivity is increased through establishment of demo plots for showcasing the right procedures and technologies for farming.The organization also encourages production of yellow passion fruits which are resistant to pests' infections and require less spraying.
They train the purple passion fruit farmers on the best way to spray so as to maintain minimal residue levels for the fruits to be accepted in the markets.
Elsewhere in Kilifi and Malindi more than 500 farmers are growing five new commercial mango breeds with yield potential of ten times conventional varieties, as part of drive to take the returns from local mango farming to new highs.
Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (KARI) has brought in five new mango varieties -- Haden, Tommy Atkins, Van Dyke, Sensation and Kent -- from Florida in the United States for the farmers who were previously growing conventional mango varieties like Ngoe, Boribo and Apple, which yield at most 200 fruits per tree. The new varieties, by contrast, can yield between 1,000 to 1, 200 fruits per tree.
The coastal area was chosen for the roll-out of the new breeds because of its endemic poverty levels and the economic impact the project would have there, said Lusike Wasilwa, assistant director of horticulture and industrial crops at Kari. Kari has also developed dwarf varieties for the coastal region, Peach and Sabre, to add to the other five varieties.
The dwarf varieties have been developed by grafting superior varieties onto local varieties that do well in the coast to produce high yield varients.Farmers in the project are also being taught how to add value to their crops through post harvest methods to preserve their fruits. The shelf life of a picked ripe mango is two weeks, but farmers can preserve peeled mangoes in sugar saline solution for up to three months.
In Kenya, industrial and small scale processors process four of the 10 mango products processed worldwide, confining processing to juices, pickles, Indian chutney and jams. Yet all the 10 products, which include mango paste, puree, pulp and powder, can be processed locally.
This kind of value addition can deliver farmers far higher earnings than selling freshly harvested mangoes. When sold to formal markets, two mangoes that make up a kg sell for 5 shillings to 20 shillings in a season.