By Irungu Mwangi
The sweet yellow passion fruit could soon overtake the once black gold of coffee if more farmers embrace its production in the country.
Its farm gate price stands at Sh 70 per kilogram during the peak while those lucky farmers who produce the commodity at off peak can comfortably earn Sh 120 per kilogram.
Perhaps this is what drove Fredrick Njogu Mwoya into being a passion fruit farmer as he continues to uproot his coffee stems to get more space for the profitable crop. Mwoya, besides farming the fruit also engages in the production of the fruit seedlings selling a single sprout at Sh30.
In 2013, Mwoya earned Sh350,000 from his half acre piece of land where he has planted the fruit.
He says this season he has planted more seedlings after uprooting a section of his coffee trees which he said are not giving him good returns as compared to the kind of labour and inputs applied.
He said, “l am guaranteed two harvesting seasons in a year while market is readily available and in most cases, traders normally come to my shamba to buy the produce at farm price”.
He says he is able to comfortably sustain his family and educate his children without much financial struggles as it used to be when he solely relied on coffee for his survival.
“My first born has gone through her secondary education while the other one will be joining Form Three next year and since I have this agribusiness in place, I have nothing to worry about her school fees,” he confidently said.
The happy farmer attributes his accomplishment to a farmer’s field day he attended where hecame across the magic fruit on display by a team from the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (KARI).
He was invited to sample the fruit and from its sugary taste, and the information he received from the staffers, he decided to try on its farming immediately.
“I got even more interested when they offered me half a kilogram of its seed free of charge,” he said.
Mwoya whose land is near Ithareini market within the vicinity of Kerugoya town says as long as his fruits are mature , there is a ready market from the neighboring institutions namely the like of Kabere girls high school, and the St. Andrew’s Theological College among others.
“The crop only requires a well prepared land, manure and spraying before and after the flowering to ward off some pests and parasites which can cause extensive damage if unrestricted.
Mwoya says he is able to attend to his fruit farm single handedly while his wife is engaged in other domestic work leading to maximum utilization of time.
He however faulted the youth who have continued to shy away from engaging in farming yet the income is sometimes even better than that of a salaried officer.
“Within my village, only another young man is trying to learn from me while others keep roaming in search of the elusive white collar jobs yet land is available and unutilized,” he says.
A crop expert Mr. John Gachingiri agrees with Mwoya that Kirinyaga County has a high potential for the production of the fruits.
He says virtually every corner of the county is ideal and suitable for the farming of the fruit whose demand has so far outstripped supply.
Mwoya is one of the farmers who have benefitted from more than 20 years of research by the Kenya Agricultural Research and Livestock Organisation (KARLO) formerly known as KARI, which has developed three new passion fruit varieties, Kenya passion fruit number 4 (KPF 4), KPF 11 and KPF 12.
This new varieties are now helping smallholder farmers, like Mwoya, to expand the passion fruit production. The new varieties are not only drought tolerant but are more suited to the fresh market and processing.
KARLO has started to commercialise these varieties by identifying community nurseries in warm areas to transfer of the technology to farmers. They have propagated more than 30,000 seedlings for distribution in various counties in the Eastern, Central and parts of Rift Valley.
A vegetatively propagated seedling of the new varieties costs Sh30 but farmers could also purchase a gramme of seeds at Sh60.
KARLO estimates that a farmer can harvest as much as three tonnes from a hectare of land.
For this project, soft drink giant Coca Cola has offered to buy the passion fruit concentrates from intermediaries for later value addition into quality juices. This, according to Mr Henry Kinyua of Technoserve, is good news to thousands of farmers pegging their hopes on the product at a time when the country’s production capacity is below the market demand.
Passion fruit has quick financial returns for both the domestic and export markets because it takes only one year for the crop to mature.
Two more companies – Equity Bank and Sunny Processors – are collaborating with KARLO in the project. Equity Bank will provide loans to passion fruit farmers while Sunny Processors will extract concentrates for sale to Coca Cola.
Data from KARI shows that two varieties have been predominantly grown in Kenya. The purple passion, the most common does well in mid-attitude regions, has quick market returns but is susceptible to Fusarium wilt, brown spot and passion fruit woodiness virus complex. Whereas the yellow passion fruit does well in hot regions, it is highly tolerant to soil-borne diseases. The yellow passion fruit‘s strength is in its acidity content and strong flavour.
“The KARI fruit breeding programme initiated activities to improve yellow passion fruit including use of the yellow type as the rootstalk,” explains Mr Njuguna.
The passion fruit breeding programme is also supported by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
Fresh produce of passion fruit cultivated in the North Rift Valley, Western and Nyanza Provinces targets the local and regional markets. It is one of the leading commercial enterprises in the North Rift where the area under passion fruit is increasing rapidly. However, farmers in these regions face major challenges with quality planting materials, agronomic and pest and disease management. Diseases of economic importance are passion fruit woodiness virus complex, Fusarium wilt and brown spot. Majority of the growers apply sub-optimal fertilizers.
A local community group in Bungoma Good Neighbours that is supported by KARI, USAID and GIZ (previously PSDA GTZ) is focused on upscaling passion fruit in Western, Nyanza and Rift Valley Provinces. The chair of Good Neighbours Mrs Zippy Simiyu is instrumental in establishing 15 screenhouses for passion fruit production in Rift Valley (6), Western (7) and Nyanza (2) Provinces. Outputs from this initiative are targeting 200,000 households by 2015. To date 350,000 passion fruit seedlings have been distributed in this region. Another initiative spearheaded by KARLO-Kitale recently disseminated 12kg of yellow passion fruit (cultivated on approximately 120 acres) and 17kg of purple passion fruit covering about 200 acres that contributes to a total of 360 acres in the North Rift. The bulk of the passion fruit goes to Uganda for juice processing.
KARLO-Kitale also sells grafted seedlings and has been offering technical advice to farmers and directing them to registered nurseries such Good Neighbours, ESKAY and Lessos in Bungoma, Uasin Gishu and Nandi.
In Coast Province (Kilifi, Malindi, Kwale, Msambweni and South Coast), two KARLO centres (Mtwapa and Matuga) have the capacity to train farmers on passion fruit agronomics, crop management practices and propagate various varieties of passion fruit including the yellow passion fruit (dominant variety (Passiflora edulis f. flavicarpa), KPF-4 and C5.
A recent survey spearheaded by Agricultural Business Development in Kwale and Msambweni indicates that over 3,808 passion fruit farmers have cultivated about 425ha of passion fruit or about 707,114 stems. The farmers earned Ksh154 million at farm-gate level and produced about 8,753 tonnes.
KARI research activities have developed passion fruit varieties that are pest and disease tolerant as well as high yielding and suited for coastal region. Genes from the yellow passion fruit which does well in Coast have been combined with the purple highland variety to produce a superior hybrid. The new hybrids have fruit that is sweeter and good for juice processing.
How to establish and graft passion fruit seedlings
Passion fruit production is constrained by several insect pests, diseases and inadequate knowledge on the management of the crop among other factors. A grower needs to know a few basic facts about the crop.
The two types of commercially grown passion fruit in Kenya.
- The purple passion (Passiflora edulis f. edulis)
This type of passion fruit is most suited to upper midland and highlands (1,100 to 2,500m above sea level). It has purple coloured superior fruits of 4-5 cm in diameter which have an aromatic flavour.
It is good for fresh market and Juice extraction for local and export markets.
- Yellow passion fruit (Passifl ora edulis f. flavicarpa)
This passion fruit is most suited to the coastal lowlands. It is more vigorous and has a larger fruit of 5-7cm. It is more acidic and used for juice extraction. Yellow passion fruit is resistant to Fusarium; wilt, tolerant to Phytophthora blight, nematodes and brown spot. It is used as rootstock to purple passion fruit.
Seed extraction, planting and grafting
Step 1: Seed extraction
Healthy mature fruits of yellow passion fruit with a history of good bearing capacity are collected from parent plant.
Seeds are scooped from the fruits
- Extracted seeds are put in water for at least 3 days to ferment and ease separation of pulp and seed.
- The seeds are then dried under shade.Seeds lose viability rapidly if not stored in a dry, dark cool place.
Step 2: Planting
Seeds are planted into prepared beds or into 6 cm wide by 22.5cm high polyethylene bags filled with sterilized soil to eliminate root knot nematodes, soil borne diseases and other harmful organisms.
• Sterilization may be through solarization (using sun) or by use of steam.
• Germination starts after about 17 days.
Step 3: Grafting
Seedling rootstocks of yellow passion fruit are grown until they are at least 50cm high and 3-4 mm thick.
• Healthy seedlings with dark green leaves are selected for grafting.
• Scions from healthy high yielding true-to-type vines of purple passion fruit are collected preferably when the plants have flowered.
Scion mother plants should be raised in areas protected against sucking insects, to reduce incidences of disease.
• Sterilization of grafting equipment between grafts must be practised (use jik).
• Two methods of grafting are used. These are cleft (most common) and splice.
• Seedlings should be watered regularly and protected from insects.
• All shoots from the rootstocks must be removed.
• Harden-off seedlings by exposing them to the sun gradually when scion shoot is about 10cm long.
• Remove grafting tape from the union and transplant seedling in the field one month after grafting.