Growing families through fruit farming

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By Mercy Ngigi.

In the past, a mango farmer in Murang’a County would watch her mangoes rot due to lack of markets and poor prices. Today, her fortunes have changed, thanks to a women’s co-operative and a simple dehydrator

Down the hill in Maguguni Village in Kambiti, Murang’a County, lies Ms Felister Wanjiku’s beautiful homestead. As you walk up the hill, crispy cold air fills your nostrils and rich flora welcomes you.

The 30-year-old mother of three has filled her shamba with 150 mango, 20 orange and some pawpaw trees. A diligent woman, she wakes up at dawn to prepare breakfast for her family.

Her daughter and two sons help with the domestic chores. The boys take the goats grazing while their sister cleans the home.

Her husband, who was a driver at the Port of Mombasa, was laid off early this year due to the coronavirus pandemic. The layoff was unexpected but luckily, the family has survived by selling their farm produce.

“Fruit farming has always catered for my family’s needs, especially during difficult times,” says a joyful Wanjiku.

She sells fruits at Kambiti market, 20 kilometres away located along the Thika-Murang’a highway.

Previously, Ms Wanjiku could barely sell her mangoes and would watch them rot on her shamba.

However, she joined a women farmers’ cooperative last year and her fortunes have changed. The cooperative recently got a boost from Agricycle, East Africa; a company that assists smallholders turn their waste into opportunity.

Agricyle gave the cooperative a loan to purchase a dehydrator to enable farmers to dry and store their fruits for longer periods. The machine turned out to be a good investment, enabling members to sell their produce at better prices.

“During the prime mango season from December to February, most of our mangoes would rot on our shambas. Fierce competition, too, forced us to sell at throwaway prices. However, things changed after we joined hands with Agricycle,” says Ms Wanjiku.

Today, the farmers’ mangoes no longer go to waste and their incomes have increased tremendously.

Through savings generated from selling her fruits, Ms Wanjiku bought a motorbike, which her husband uses to transport their harvest, as a boda boda and to deliver fruit from tree nurseries to customers.

“My husband transports the fruit to the marketplace. The motorcycle has supported our business and increased our income,” she adds.

The farm has several mango varieties, including Kent, Tommy and Apple. She is, however, planning to concentrate only on the Tommy variety, which is less affected by adverse weather and commands better prices.

At her market stall, she has several kienyeji chickens and sells eggs at Ksh15-Ksh20 each. In addition, she has two puppies, which she hopes to sell at a profit. Her sons are rearing four rabbits, which they intend to sell later.

”Farming is our way of life and even with the coronavirus pandemic we are not struggling,” says Ms Wanjiku.

More than 1.3 billion tonnes of food go to waste annually in sub-Saharan Africa due to poor preservation methods, lack of essential technology and poor markets. Kenyan mango farmers have not been spared.

Agricycle stepped in to help the farmers to reduce wastage and expand their markets.

“We have provided farmers with passive solar dehydrators and have connected them to Jali Fruit Company, which buys their produce at a higher and consistent price,” says Mr Patrick Nderitu, a co-founder and director at Agricycle.

Before this partnership, the women sold each mango at between Ksh3 and Ksh5. Today, they have a constant market and sell their dried fruits at a higher price.

Agricycle has also trained farmers to grow fruits, operate and upgrade their businesses. The women say the firm has been instrumental in their success.

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