Phyllis Nduva, like hundreds of other mango growers in Makueni, has had the highs and lows of mango cultivation. She started growing mangoes 22 years ago, and today she doesn’t regret it. Nduva started mango cultivation in 2000 with several false starts.
“My mangoes were always attacked by fruit flies and the few I harvested brought in little money,” Nduva recalls of the trip.
The money was little due to exploitation by intermediaries. But over the years, she has managed to grow her orchard, tree by tree.
“I now have over 600 mango trees and 1,000 orange trees. I grow alternative crops because the fruits are harvested during the seasons,” explains the farmer.
In an effort to strengthen their bargaining power, mango growers banded together in 2012 and registered a cooperative society that has 3,000 farmers. They managed to secure an export market in Dubai.
“In the second year of export, we made huge losses in the Dubai market after our mangoes were rejected because they were eaten by fruit flies. We later learned that we had misunderstood the market and some unscrupulous traders took advantage of our ignorance. We recorded losses amounting to 600 million shillings,” says Nduva. It was a blow for the members and some wanted to leave the company all together. Luckily for them, in 2018 USAID stepped in and trained Nduva and other farmers on growing mangoes for the export market and pest control. Slowly, the cooperative and the Makueni County government stabilized the prices, which went from Sh2 to Sh15 per fruit.
Threat of fruit flies
As part of the training, they learned tips on integrated pest management technologies that have helped eradicate the fruit fly in some areas of Makueni and other pest-infested areas. According to Crop Life International Integrated Pest Management or IPM, it is a pest management system designed to be sustainable. IPM involves the use of the best combination of cultural, biological and chemical measures for particular circumstances, including plant biotechnology where appropriate. This provides the most cost effective, environmentally sound and socially acceptable method of managing diseases, insects, weeds and other pests in agriculture. Fruit flies may be small – but they are one of the biggest enemies of fruit growers, especially mangoes. The larvae of these insects often infest ripe fruits, rendering them unusable. Traditionally, farmers use pheromone traps – chemicals that attract flies – then manually count dead insects every 10 days.
“We were taught how to use technology to trap fruit flies, which were the main cause of post-harvest losses. We have reduced post-harvest from 60% to 30%,” says Nduva.
The market and marketing of mangoes was another big challenge, she recalls. Makueni is one of the main mango producing counties in Kenya. More than 109,465 residents of Makueni grow and sell mangoes through cooperative societies, according to the Ministry of Agriculture. Nduva says that through the cooperative, market research was conducted in six counties with the aim of inter-county trade between Makueni and counties where there was high demand for mangoes.
“From the survey, farmers discovered local markets which saw them selling mangoes locally in Migori, Homa Bay, Busia, Garissa, Bomet and other counties. Mangoes were exchanged for other agricultural products like avocado and potatoes,” she says.
She says water was the biggest challenge and many farmers struggled to irrigate. According to Nduva, water harvesting remains a big challenge as it is an expensive business and requires the support of governments. “We are now initiating young people to embark on fruit growing and to understand the dynamics of cooperative management.”.
Julius Maithya, CEO of Makueni County Fruit Development and Marketing Authority, says the fight against the fruit fly has been partly won. For four years, Makueni has been processing farmers’ mangoes. He says the processing plant bought 1,000 metric tons of mangoes and the quality was impressive.
“The plant has a capacity of 5,000 metric tons per hour and we can only process 5% for the local market. The factory is underutilized,” he says, adding that the surplus is absorbed by the local market.
“We produce 10,000 barrels of mash and sell to juice producers in Kenya and outside.
To produce the puree, the ripe mangoes are first sorted, washed, then cut into small pieces and the juice extracted. In order for it to last a long time, we put it in containers and place it in the refrigerator.
“We earn about 50 million shillings on average per season. This is shared equally among the members and the rest is reinvested in the business,” explains Maithya.
While the price of a single mango ranges from Sh15 to Sh25 per kg, the cost of puree ranges from Sh50 to Sh80 per kilo. Nzioki King’ola, the county executive in charge of agriculture, says that despite fruit fly and water problems, Makueni remains the top apple mango producer.
“Farmers were exploited by middlemen who bought mangoes at a price as low as Sh2. Export quality is now Sh60. We suspended ourselves from the European market about 13 years ago because of fruit flies,” says King’ola.
“All of our farmers have fruit fly traps on their farms after we ran a campaign that resulted in fruit fly free areas in Makueni and now we are back in the EU market,” said Joseph Mbithi, a crop expert with Field Organic. launched the Komesha Fruit Fly program in 2018.
He says the program advocates the use of organic products to control the fruit fly.
“It has been effective in controlling fruit flies. We do not spray fruit. You spray the stem and it attracts the fruit fly. Framers now get more produce and have reduced post-harvest losses by 50%. There are no residues in the fruit,” says Mbithi.