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Status of Passion Fruit Production in Kenya

Several years back, Republic of Kenya was among high producers of passion fruits, however overtime production has stagnated. however, we’ve seen improvement in sweet yellow selection production since 2011 when it was introduced and it’s currently wide fully grown. This is often as a result of its proof against bacterial wilt and woodiness.

Most farmers grow the yellow and purple varieties. Yellow is good for processing while the other variety is good for fresh juice extraction. This has boosted the production cycle that is now two years yet our competitors like Zimbabwe and South Africa take five years. However, our average production is still 3.3 metric tonnes (MT) per hectare compared to 8 tonnes per hectare for other nations.

According to HCD, in 2015, total production stood at 46,628MT but this fell in subsequent years to 31,571MT on average. The low production is due to pests and diseases and reliance of rain-fed agriculture and farmers are not providing enough nutrients to grow to optimum.

Woodiness disease is a major hindrance to the production of the fruit and is characterized by the crop’s leaves turning yellowish. It is a viral infection that occurs in cooler areas or seasons, with symptoms including one getting malformed fruits with hard rind producing no pulp. These cannot be sold in any market.

New Varieties in The Market

Since 2011, there has been a number of varieties released by Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organization like KPF 8, KPF 11 and KPF 12.  These varieties can withstand pests and erratic weather patterns. But there is also a purple variety called Esther, which is bigger, sweet and promises better yields. Most farmers are yet to grow it. The variety takes time before it shrivels or loses moisture compared existing ones.

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Hindrances to the Export Market

Various markets normally set requirements for active ingredient for a specific crop. The challenge has been that we don’t have appropriate chemicals for use on the crop. There is only one herbicide and one pesticide approved by Pesticide Control Board (PCB) for use by farmers.

However, there are a wide range of pests such as white flies and mealy-bugs that attack this crop. Export markets such as the Europe Union require that the use of these products must be registered and approved.

So, the challenge is that if farmers use a pesticide that is not within those approved, then automatically they are not conforming to the set requirements. Secondly, by default the residue level is set at 0.01, (which is level set for those products that have not been approved). So, if they spray using a pesticide that is not approved, it is detected immediately and the produce intercepted. Most exporters have been unable to export because they fear that their produce would be rejected by the EU market. Yet, spraying to kill pests and diseases is inevitable because of the tropical climate we live in.

The government responsibility is to protect farmers and the PCB is currently working to correct the situation. We are also working with the competent existing horticultural structures to assist farmers comply with market requirements not just for the EU, but also American, Australian and Oman market that have stringent measures.

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Other Challenges in This Sector and How They Can Be Handled

Most smallholder farmers rely on rain-fed agriculture so that when the rains fail, you get small sizes of fruits that are rejected in the export market.

Counties should support farmers by developing irrigation agriculture to ensure the quality of the produce is improved.

Role of The Horticultural Crops Directorate in Assisting Farmers Access Better Market

HCD is encouraging farmers to work in groups. They also encourage them to grow certified seedlings from nurseries licensed or registered by HCD or county governments. In addition, they also follow the contractual agreement between farmers and an exporter as a witness to ensure that they are not exploited. It is a requirement that the exporter must also have a certificate from HCD and a plant health certificate from Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Service before exporting produce.

(Source, Seeds of Gold)

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Regaining Kenya’s passion fruit farming

Kenya exported passion fruits in the 90s and early 2000 but since 2003, decline in production started because of pest management challenges.

Despite Kenya’s potential to grow and export passion fruits, production of the highly profitable crop has been on the decline over the past decade with no imports going into the European Union.

The Fresh Produce Exporters Association of Kenya Chairman Apollo Owuor told a gathering of farmers, buyers and development partners at a conference titled Making Kenya the Global Leader in Passion Fruit Production and Marketing held in Eldoret last month, Kenya produced and exported the fruits in the 90s and early 2000 but since 2003, decline in production started because of pest management challenges.

The European market has strict guidelines on pesticides residues and passion was reported to contain above allowable limits.

He added there has not been efforts to revive the industry partly because passion is listed by the Ministry of Agriculture as a minor horticultural crop therefore not in government policy for priority. The Agriculture Food Authority Horticulture Directorate head Zakayo Magara admitted passion fruit is listed under 100 other minor crops.

Following the day-long deliberations, the Council of Governors Agriculture Committee, represented by Anne Koech, County Executive Committee Member in charge of Agriculture, Kericho, made a commitment to propose and support the upgrading of the crop to a major so that funds can be allocated to development of passion in counties earmarked as suitable to grow it. She said the county governments would subsidise purchasing of seedlings to improve production and create market linkages to streamline marketing among in Western region, considered as a high potential passion fruit production zone.

According to the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) that funded the conference through the Kenya Agriculture Value Chains Enterprises (Kaves), Passion fruits can grow anywhere in Kenya due to availability of varieties for warmer and colder parts of the country. “We have yellow passion for the lower, warmer regions and the more common purple variety for the higher cooler parts,” said Dr Steve New, Kaves Chief of Party.

He added there is potential for Kenya to be a world leader in tropical juice production due to year-round availability of tropical fruits – passion, mango and pineapple, as the only country in the world that can grow the crops continuously.

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Passion fruit is the most profitable in comparison with other crops, according to the Passion Fruit Value Chain Study undertaken in 2015 by Dr Hezekiah Agwara which indicates a farmer can make good income from a small parcel of land measuring 0.3- 0.6 of an acre. Dr New describes this as “poverty level minimum” that can sustain a livelihood. He added nothing goes to waste from a passion fruit plant. “Minimal wastage in passion fruit production because there is a huge domestic market. Passion is also used by processors for juice while neighbouring Uganda is a big market for Kenya passion fruits taking 50 per cent of total production. South Sudan is also buying lots of passion from Kenya.

Dr New stresses that passion fruit is best produced by smallholders due the attention it requires for maximum productivity. At spraying the plant will be at different stages of pest control making it hard for largescale management. On one vine you can have a flower, a young and mature fruit at the same time. The disease and pest control for each is different and non should affect the other, especially the ready to harvest fruit which shouldn’t have traces of chemicals. Managing this balance it not easy, he said.

According to Eric Ogumo, UK retail giant, Tescos, manager for Africa, passion fruit is the most sought after in their shelves in Europe, retailing at Ksh 2,000 a kilo. “Buyers always ask for Kenya fruits but there are none. “We are here to buy your fruits”, he told an attentive gathering. Mr Ogumo said they are buying from Southern Africa countries of South Africa, Zimbabwe and Zambia. “There is a ready market if we can get your fruits”, he said adding that Kenya is not benefiting from newest varieties because the country is not exporting. “There are newer, better yielding, pest and diseases resistant varieties for export but they are not being grown here.” Mr Ogumo said.

The biggest challenge of meeting pesticides residue limits is caused by there being only one registered product. The Agriculture Committee of the Council of Governors has committed to bring agrochemical firms together with the Ministry of Agriculture and the Pest Control Products Board to discuss extension of labels to include passion fruits in pest control products available in the country to give farmers options.

Biological control products firms have also not conducted research on the passion due to its minor crop status.