Makueni is the leading county in mango production contributing up to 31 per cent of the total fruits that Kenya produces. “Right now the amount exported is two per cent of the total production of 184,000 tonnes produced annually, which is a small fraction,” said Robert Kisyula, the then CEC Agriculture, Makueni.
That mangoes are critical to the economy of Makueni County, is not in doubt. What is worrying is that the devolved unit only exports a paltry two per cent to the world market, missing out on lucrative global business.
Part of the reason for a slow uptake on the export market was because of a selfimposed ban by Kenya in 2010 after experiencing a bout of mango fruit fly that risked Kenya’s produce being banned in Europe, which is its main market before the moratorium. “It was easier to pull out ourselves than being banned by markets in Europe. We hope that we will be able to reopen the EU market this year,” he said.
The ban had a serious impact on the price of mangoes locally with a kilo going for as low as Sh5 with disgruntled farmers failing to take their crop to the market, leading to post-harvest losses.
It is because of this that the county opened up Makueni Fruit Processing Plant, which at the moment buys fruits from farmers at a good price and doing value-addition for both the local and export market.
The plant has been registered as an export zone allowing the produce that comes from the facility to be exported to the world market.
“We have the capacity to triple mangoes that goes to the export market, and we are hoping that in two years we will be at 10 per cent of mangoes produced getting to the international market,” he said.
The factory processes mango puree and they are extending it to cater to other produce in the county such as tomato concentrate and banana pulp. The products from the firm are sold locally as well as in the international market as a concentrate for making juice and other beverages.
The plant aims to process mangoes from other regions in future as the Makueni crop alone is not enough to meet the required quantities. “It was targeting 900,000 tonnes this season for processing but it only got 400,000 from local farmers,” he said.
Julius Ngwasu, who is a vice-chairman of local cooperative society with more than 400 members, says the factory came as a relief to most of them because it has waded off the cartels who used to offer them rock bottom price.
The factory has come at a good time, it has helped us to get good prices as initially, middlemen used to manipulate prices. Now we are able to sell bigger percentages at the factory plant through the cooperatives,” he said.
The farmer said they are now earning up to Sh20 per kilo, which translates to about two big fruits as opposed to Sh5 for the same quantity from brokers previously. The county has 12 fruit cooperative societies that have formed Mafruits, an organisation bringing together all mango producers with a current membership of more than 17,000 growers.
“One of the biggest gains to a local farmer as a result of this plant is that there have been no cases of price exploitation,” said Mr Kisyula, the then CEC.
Fruit flies, which are quarantine pests in Europe, have been a major impediment towards exporting mangoes to the European market.
Kenya has been exporting mangoes to middle-eastern nations after it paused the European market but the returns have been low compared with what farmers would earn from the EU bloc.
According to the county, farmers have been making losses of between 40 per cent and 50 per cent as a result of the fruit flies. The county intervened through the provision of the fly traps to contain the huge losses as well as target the resumption of the lucrative European market.
“With the installation of fly traps, we have been able to half that loss to 20 per cent, hoping to cut further to 10 per cent, which is our target as we might not eliminate everything,” said the county official.
Mr Ngwasu said he has been able to contain the number of fruit flies on his farm and has been making a profit since he started using the traps. “At the moment I have 108 mango trees in my two-acre land, in the last season, I lost almost everything to fruit flies, but since I got the traps, my gains will be huge,” he said. Mutheu Kithuma, a director at Kibwezi Agro Limited, says they are keenly waiting for the resumption of the European market in the coming months, most probably in September.
She said the European market would come as a major boost to her and other farmers, given that the earnings from Europe are 20 per cent more than what they get from Dubai, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and other middle-east countries.
Ms Kithuma has 10,000 mango trees on her 180-acre farm, making it one of the largest orchards in Kenya, with the plans underway to expand it to more than 20,000 trees.
The Directorate of Horticulture says Kenya is ready to resume exports because of the suppression of fruit flies.
Wilfred Yako, assistant director of regulations and compliance at the directorate, said Kenya is now set to return to the EU market, following the initiatives that have been put in place.
“Since 2020 to date, it has been established that the level of infestation have drastically gone down and this gives assurance that farmers will now access the EU market,” he said.