Pambazuka News

kenya: Passion Fruit Farming Craze in Kenyan District

2003-05-01, Issue 108

http://pambazuka.org/en/category/development/14752


Buoyed by good market prices, maize farmers in Uasin Gishu are turning to planting passion fruits, which they say are also cheaper to maintain. Already, officers from the National Agriculture and Livestock Extension Programme, implementing a new bottom-up approach towards sustainable agriculture in the district, are at select focal areas in the district encouraging farmers to develop home-grown solutions to some of their problems. Funded by the Swedish International Development Agency (Sida) the new extension approach allows the full participation of the beneficiaries and encourages farmers to form interest groups to address any emerging problems.

DEVELOPMENT






Farming Feature
Passion Fruit Farming Craze in Kenyan District

By John Kamau

Buoyed by good market prices, maize farmers in Uasin Gishu are turning to planting passion fruits, which they say are also cheaper to maintain.
Already, officers from the National Agriculture and Livestock Extension Programme, implementing a new bottom-up approach towards sustainable agriculture in the district, are at select focal areas in the district encouraging farmers to develop homegrown solutions to some of their problems.
Funded by the Swedish International Development Agency (Sida) the new extension approach allows the full participation of the beneficiaries and encourages farmers to form interest groups to address any emerging problems.
After a few experiments success stories are emerging from the field, which if replicated, the north rift could turn to a major producer of passion fruits in the country. To some farmers passion fruit farming is the latest craze.
Every morning, 50-year-old David Chipkiyeng wakes up and walks to his 1/2-acre passion fruit farm, and picks the ripe fruits ready for sale. In the afternoon he goes down a small stream and turns on a water pump he has installed.
"It is very important to water the vine so as to keep it flowering and fruiting continuously", he tells me. "Lack of water causes the fruits to shrivel and fall prematurely" he says as extension officers from the Sida-funded extension Programme watch him keenly.
Located some 15 metres from his recently built permanent house in Uasin Gishu's Keses Division, Chipkiyeng's fruit farm is becoming a test case that passion fruit farming in Kenya's north rift could be the answer to poverty reduction in the agricultural rich terrain.
"It is very encouraging that farmers are having a crop with a ready market and high potential", says Titus Omengo, a Nalep extension officer.
At the moment, Kenya, Zimbabwe, Burundi, and South Africa are some of the few African countries that grow passion fruits while the main market of these products is US and Canada. Saudi Arabia and Kuwait also imports passion fruit from Kenya.
But the local market is still there. Chipkiyeng sells his produce to middlemen "at times from Uganda".
Two years ago Chipkiyeng, a father of 10, felt hopeless as maize prices plunged to an all time low. "Extension officers advised me to try passion fruit. I was desperate", he says with a smile.
Today, Chipkiyeng earns approximately Kenya shillings 8,000 a week from his half acre plot and his is one of the success stories emerging as the government shifts from the previous top-down extension approach.
"What we have is a farmer-oriented extension service better equipped to meet the needs and demands of the small-scale farming population. It is demand-driven", says Andrew Dibo, the Uasin Gishu District Agriculture and Livestock Extension Programme Officer.
The NALEP initiative aims to support a pluralistic approach involving all key stakeholders and is conceptualised to among other issues, address accountability to beneficiaries; wider involvement of stakeholders; and strong participatory.
"We want to empower the beneficiaries so that they can take control of their future", says Dibo.
But the growing of passion fruits in an area that is known for maize and wheat farming is becoming an extension challenge for NALEP officers on the ground.
Farmers are taught on group dynamics and officers regularly carry demonstrations with them "which can be replicated elsewhere", says Titus Omengo, a Nalep extension officer.
Standing between this success is the emergence of fusarium wilt, a bacterial disease that affects passion fruit vines. Extension officers agree that this is a poser for passion fruit farming. But the farmers are collaborating with scientists from the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (KARI) to beat that problem.
"We are teaching farmers how to deal with the problem when they see it", says Scholastica Odhiambo, a Nalep extension officer, as she cuts off some diseased vines. "The only solution at the moment is to remove the diseased vine and burn it", she tells Chipkiyeng who watches with keen interest.
Also the passion fruit farmers are being asked to organise around interest groups to tackle their day-to-day problems, like marketing. At the moment passion fruits are selling at shillings 20 a kilo and picks to more than shs 40 per kilo. (Rights Features)