Jane Gacheri @PeopleDailyKe
For 62-year-old Christine Naitore, mango-growing was never a business activity during her childhood days. In fact, she recollects that the mangoes grew wildly and unintended to reward lucky pickers, but only at the season’s peak.
The now established mango farmer from Runywene, in Meru county, recalls how as young children they would wait for the mango season with anticipation.
“We would excitedly jump from one mango tree to another, shake the branches and hastily climb down to collect the fruit, most of which would be spoilt, unripe or damaged. We would then proceed to a secluded place and have a feast,” she says.
Rarely did they sell the fruit. In 1995, she began tending to her mango trees after learning that mango farming could change her financial fortunes. Today, thanks to YieldWise, Naitore and other mango farmers within Meru County have changed their perception about mango farming.
YieldWise is a $130 million (Sh13.5 billion) global initiative – launched in 2016, to address the food waste and loss system. Before the project, farmers in this region lost one third of their produce through post-harvest damage and wastage.
Now with training, they are smiling all the way to the bank. Today, the former happy-go-lucky mango tree climber would be furious if she found someone climbing her precious trees to shake off the fruits. Through the project, she and other farmers have learnt about profitable fruit farming.
Her Runywene Mango Growers’ self-help group is staring riches in the face as they plan to start a fruit drying business to address value addition. This last season has been Naitore’s best in her more than two decades of mango farming.
“So far I have sold mangoes worth $530 (Sh55,120) and I’m still looking forward to more sales,” she says with pride. The group’s success story has been attributed to good agronomy training, innovative technological interventions such as construction of charcoal and solar-powered cooler storage units, pest and disease control through the use of locally accessible tools.
These include: fruit fly traps , use of crates for packaging, use of harvesting tools as opposed to “shaking” of trees alongside training in business skills. All these have contributed to minimal post-harvest losses and waste, hence better earnings for the farmers.
To give the fruit a longer lifespan, a charcoal-powered cooling facility in Charia, Meru county and two pilot solar-powered cooling plants have been put up at Karoche and Gakirwi both in Tharaka-Nithi county.
The solar- powered cooling units have been manufactured by AGCO’s GSI, a private sector partner under the supervision of TechnoServe, the implementing partner, for the YieldWise initiative in Kenya.
Michael Koome, a trainer and technician with TechnoServe, says the coolers help in controlling the ripening process of harvested fruit especially when there is a glut in the market.
“Post-harvest losses due to poor harvest handling, poor packaging, sunlight and heat exposure during transportation to market, pest and disease, poor business skills and inadequate market linkages are major concerns to mango growers,” says Koome.
Wilberforce Ntwiga of TechnoServe notes that the interventions have resulted in creation of farmer groups that now have direct access to local and multinational companies such as Coca-Cola, guaranting them a steady access to new and global markets.
“More than 20,000 farmers will benefit from the first phase of the project and farmers can attest to increased yields and profits due to this intervention,” explains Ntwiga.