Seventy-three-year-old Abdalla Myega’s name readily comes up when one is looking for prominent Jackfruit farmers at the coast. He is a resident of Mkonowa Ndugu Village in Kikoneni, Pongwe Ward in Lunga Lunga Sub-County of Kwale County.
The farmer may not be able to easily get around his farm due to a surgery gone awry that has hampered his mobility but, he can still afford a big smile when the Jackfruit harvesting season begins.
His homestead teems with activity, with many people trooping in to buy the fruits harvested from the trees he planted more than 30 years ago. Mr Myega’s farm borders Tanzania on Kenya’s South Coast and he fully understands the highs and lows of the venture that has become his key source of his livelihood.
“Our land is fertile and we grow most crops found in the coastal region such as cassava, maize, rice, coconuts, cashew nuts and fruits, including mangoes and pawpaws for sale and for our subsistence,” he says.
“But anybody visiting our village hardly notices these crops; it’s the Jackfruit that really stands out.” A seasonal crop, the Jackfruit is a commodity in demand and is harvested in June and July. In Mombasa, traders sell the fruit in small packs or containers for between Ksh50 and Ksh100.
“This place is always awash with Jackfruit in June and July, but after that you cannot get a single piece, until around November and December,” says Mr Juma Mangale, a trader at Mombasa’s Marikiti Market.
The jackfruit, scientifically known as Artocarpus Heterophyllus, starts yielding fruit after six years. Once fully grown, the farmer doesn’t have to worry about fertiliser or pesticides. The crop follows the rain patterns of the coastal belt and continues producing every time the rains begin. Farmers such as Mr Myega say they have not sought any help from local agricultural extension services, since the tree not indigenous to this area), was introduced by their fathers many years back.
“The tree was brought by our elders from Zanzibar where they were working on clove farms many years ago,” recalls Mr Myega. “They brought the seeds and taught us how to tend the crop.”
In Zanzibar, folklore has it that the Jackfruit used to grow wild in the forest, but with time people discovered it was fit for human consumption and began growing it on their farms. It has since become a popular fruit in the entire region.
The fruit is also shrouded in some mystery. For example, Mr Myega explained, once it is planted, several seedlings sprout, but only one grows to maturity.
According to the farmer, the egg-shaped seed is planted upside down and fully covered in soil. Once watered, about five seedlings will germinate. Unlike other seedlings, Mr Myega warns, if transplanted, it will die, but if left at the original planting place, it will survive. Mr Myega has about 20 trees scattered across his farm.
He has, however, over time cut down about five trees to get hardwood for making furniture.
“Even with the remaining 15 trees I earn enough to cater for my needs, as one tree can produce up to 1,000 fruits in a season,” Mr Myega told the Smart Farmer.
“Some fruits can weigh between 30 and 40 kilogrammes. “Traders come all the way from Mombasa, especially Kongowea and Marikiti markets for the fruit,” he says.
Jackfruit is delicate and during harvesting, one has to ensure it does not fall on the ground and get spoilt. Some farmers opt to do value addition on their own, packaging the fruit in small containers for sale in the local market.
In Mombasa, which is the biggest market, one big fruit fetches between Ksh800 and Ksh1, 000. According to Mr Myega, to earn maximum benefit in the seasonal glut, some of the farmers cut out middlemen and transport their produce to the market.
“Buyers dictate the farm gate price for those of us who cannot take the fruits to the market and the idea of coming together as farmers to control the price has not worked,” Mr Myega laments.
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