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Sustainable Fruit Cultivation Enterprise

The agricultural pursuit of fruit growing comprises the science and art of raising and handling fruits and fruit plants for personal consumption or/and for commercial purposes. Fruits can be classified as; tree-fruits, nut-fruits, herb-like fruits, vine-fruits and small fruits. There are two main categories of fruit growers; those producing for own consumption and those producing for the market. There is a third hybrid category of growers who produce for own and sell surplus. Agriculture especially fruit tree cultivation, when at its best has great potential. A fruit tree will naturally produce fruit as long as it is grown in favorable conditions. There are certain hindrances that must be overcome such as pest & disease infestation, poor soils among others. There is no venture that is risk free therefore our main role as farmers is to mitigate/minimize those risks so as to realize profit. This post is addressed to those who want to successfully develop a fruit enterprise for commercial purposes. A later post will be dedicated to those who grow for own consumption and personal satisfaction.

When we mention the term ‘’commercial fruit cultivation’’ thoughts of millions runs in many a mind which is not the case. This is understandable due to the many blogs or prints on how to make millions of cash from certain fruit farm ventures. Don’t have too much fun in the fantasy to face reality; as a fruit grower you should not set before yourself the single standard of money-getting. As much as there is money to be made in agriculture one should also be aware of the non-commercial rewards in fruit growing. The blessing of agriculture to an individual and the nation at large is that it can make its workers happy and comfortable without making them wealthy. Satisfaction can secured just as well on a moderate income as on a large one. It is worrying when the Kenyan farmer is no longer happy or comfortable due to low prices or lack of market, but on a brighter perspective, this helps in getting us farmers’ out of our comfort zones giving us reason to try something else. From a farmer’s perspective, true wealth is health. Going by what is happening on the ground, we can foresee Rift valley and Western Kenya become the biggest producers of hass avocado in the near future. We are also longing for the day when one can purchase locally grown apples from your favorite supermarket/outlet. What of figs, grapes, dragon fruit and pomegranate from North Eastern. Fruit farming has the potential of raising the living standards of farmers but it is not a walk in the park.

avocado-trees

Hass Avocado Orchard

Fruit growing thrives best in certain geographical areas, the business is not capable of equal development in all parts of the country. Different fruit trees do well in different parts of the country. There are various determinants in fruit growing that a farmer must keep in mind before investing in a venture of her/his choice. They include; soil determinant, moisture determinant, temperature determinant, parasite determinant, market determinant among others. The location and site where the orchard is to be established should be determined. The choice of location should be with reference to weather and market. It is also beneficial for the farmer to locate her/himself among fruit growers so as to interact with fellow farmers as they share ideas and develop the fruit mind. Such a location has a potential of attracting buyers and sellers, and also encourages many forms of cooperation among farmers. When it comes to sourcing of market, volume matters hence the need to position oneself in an area that is regarded as a fruit region. For instance we are starting a 2 acre hass avocado project in Kitale. It will make no economic sense for a buyer to come all over from Nairobi to buy our produce due to volume. So it is up to us to create a “hass fruit region” in Kitale by encouraging our neighbors and other local farmers to plant hass avocado. We will go to the extent of giving interested farmers hass avocado seedlings on debt to be paid using part of their harvest.

After all fruit growing determinants have been considered and a farmer has settled on the fruit type/s she/he wants to cultivate, SEEDLING PROCUREMENT is the next step. There are different fruit seedlings vendors where one can purchase seedlings from; an online search can give you a few clues. There are also different government agencies that stock fruit seedlings, they include: JKUAT, KARLO and some prisons too raise fruit seedlings for sale. When purchasing from any chosen vendor ensure you get a good deal in terms of; the right variety,certified. disease free, right price and replacement in case of initial failure.Our major role is to ensure aspiring fruit farmers get technical support and have a strong foundation when starting out their perspective ventures. We do have 4 different strategies depending on the farmer’s budget, where one can get quality and true to type seedling varieties.

 

  1. 18 months old seedlings – These are seedlings that are more than a year old and are meant for farmers whose aim is to get the first harvest within 2 years. Such farmers also don’t have much time to tend to small seedlings or replacing the ones which failed. As for the farmers we have dealt with, the success rate is 99%. A seedling goes from kshs 300-500 depending on fruit type.
  2.  6-9 months old seedling – Most farmers with a moderate budget have gone this  route. These are seedlings that have fully healed, grafting paper removed and ready for planting. A seedling goes at Kshs 120-300 depending on fruit type.
  3. On-site grafting – we supply rootstocks to farmers to plant, and then we will come to graft them later once they are well established. Our grafters are certified and experienced attaining a success rate of 90%. This approach suits farmers who have a limited budget because they end up saving up to 40% on seedling cost.
  4. On-site raising of seedlings – There are certain advantages of raising seedlings in the same area where they are going to be planted. Farmers who have large tracts of land and want to implement a large scale project but don’t have enough cash can consider this option. We assist farmers in setting up fruit tree nurseries on-site to produce seedlings to be planted once they are ready.

 

N/B – When it comes to seedling production, we produce quality over quantity because we try as much as possible to have a wide variety of fruit trees. Therefore we do offer discounted rates to those who pre-order large quantities for commercial purposes.

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Mango Orchard

It is best if LAND PREPARATION is done prior to purchasing your seedlings. This entails clearing the land, ploughing if necessary and digging holes. Keep in mind is the spacing of your trees; different fruit crops have different spacing requirements. Fruit trees are wide feeders therefore advisable to give them sufficient space when planting. There are cases where farmers go for high density plantations but this requires experience and high maintenance. In general, it’s safer to plant trees widely to have open spaces for sunlight penetration and for easier management. The hole should be broad, as a general rule, the harder the soil the larger the hole. In loose and deep soils, just dig a hole that fits the seedling well. Plant your trees when the soil is dry; don’t plant in wet and sticky soil. We encourage top dressing using manure rather than planting with a mixture of manure and soil. Roots should spread out looking for food, when you top dress using manure and the tree is watered, nutrients will sink in the soil and the roots will do the searching making them stronger. Any subsequent fertilization that is to be done should be informed by a soil and/or leaf analysis. If possible mulch your trees after planting. It is also advisable to plant annual cover crops that improve soil fertility when your fruit trees are still young. Avoid planting grain and hay in your orchard. There are cases where one wants to maximize land use and also desires quicker returns. This can be achieved by planting 2-3 different fruit crops in the same piece of land. Here the differentiating factor is the duration for maturity. One can plant avocados with a spacing of 8m (long term), then plant tree tomato or pawpaw in between (medium-term), and finish by planting strawberries or gooseberries beneath (short-term). This is done in the initial years once the avocados gain room these other crops should be removed.

A SYSTEM must be put in place to ensure maximum production, without systems you have a limited chance of keeping track of your fruit plantation. It is important to keep track of each individual tree/variety and make a record of the performance of each tree. This ensures each tree is given the necessary conditions for optimum production. Keep simple cost-accounting records and daily work reports. Tree care practices such as irrigation, fertilization, spraying, pruning and fruit thinning should be taken into account and done at the appropriate time. Your records should reflect all these activities. Irrigation and fertilization is done on a need basis. We recommend being proactive and spray your trees as a preventative measure rather than waiting for a disease and/or pest attack. Pruning determines tree shape and should be done from the onset as the tree grows. With the current fruit grading system, especially for those targeting the export market, fruit thinning is an important practice that should not be overlooked. This is done by removing redundant fruits resulting in an end product that is superior in size, colour and general quality. Fruit bagging is necessary if one desires extra-fine fruits. When it comes to harvesting it is important to do it at the right time depending on the fruit variety; there those that ripen on the tree and those that ripen off the tree.

apple orchard

Apple Orchard in Voi

              MARKETING of your fruit produce begins early even before planting the fruit trees, for instance someone planting hass avocado or macadamia already knows there is export market. Know your market, we normally tell our customers’ that you are your own market and thanks to technology one can brand and market her/his  venture at much lower cost. As personal as it is, Success will be determined by the ability of the grower and market conditions. Truth be told, 2 persons placed in the same geographical and environmental conditions and given an equal chance will attain different business results. It all boils down to high quality production and careful marketing. If you grow what people want or present it in a manner that makes them think they want it, success will follow suit. When it comes to market target, there are two kinds of commercial fruit farmers; those who grow fruit for a special or personal market and those who grow for the general or open market. It is prudent for one to know where she/he falls so as to produce the desired quality. Generally in the case of special market, the operation is small scale and high quality fruit is produced to be sold at much higher prices. Here farmer looks for his own customers and is independent of general trade. Those targeting the general market have no personal customers; they grow what the market demands and are subjected to prevailing market prices.

Message to the world market is that Kenyan fruit produce meets high environmental threshold.  Kenya has plenty of land lying idle and there are no forests that need to be cleared for commercial fruit cultivation. Most of forests that are cleared are as a result of human settlement. Young people have started embracing agriculture and are taking over what their parents and ancestors established. The profile of a Kenyan farmer is changing, farmers are now seeking knowledge and embracing technologies that will help them produce high quality, disease free fruits, herbs & nuts destined for the world market. As much as more farmers are targeting export market, dependence on the export market for our fresh fruits is not healthy in the long-term; this should be complemented by value addition. Availability of fresh fruits should lead to the development of fruit processing industries in different counties. Both county and local governments should play a major role to attract investors in such areas.

Anyone going into fruit farming should know that there is stiff competition in this business and it is survival for the skilled. Seek knowledge and train for your work. Ten people can grow quality fruit but only one out of the ten can sell it to advantage. The effort at excellence must be continuous, let no achievement slow you down. As Ray kroc says “When you green you grow, but when you ripe you rot”. Master your local problem, from fellow farmers, books, blogs & forums learn principles and truths but at the end of the day you must solve your problems by yourself. Kindly let us know if we can be of any assistance in your fruit ventures, we can be reached via mail admin@plantafruit.org or +254714118794. To a fruitful 2020!!!!

Edible Fig Fruit

Fig fruit is one of the ancient fruits known to mankind, mostly grown in tropical and subtropical areas of the world especially in the Mediterranean. It is a nutritious fruit that is richer in iron and copper contents than other fruits. Figs contain high sugar and low acid, and also rich in carbohydrates, vitamin A and C. Fig consumption and commercial cultivation has not taken root in Kenya, only few farmers and home gardeners have embraced this crop and in most cases only a few fig trees have been planted. Kamiti prisons have played a major role in the propagation of fig fruit seedlings and they are among the few fruit tree nurseries that do figs. In the marketplace figs can be spotted at Village market, a few traders deal with them at Gigiri and they don’t come cheap.  We are in the process of partnering with a farmer in the outskirts of Nairobi to set up a demo farm of around 100 plants targeting a specific market giving room for expansion and full commercialization if the market responds well.

Figs are low maintenance fruit crops that need less care and can grow in most parts of the country. Fig trees do well in a wide range of soil type the important factor being soil drainage.  Avoid areas that have poor drainage for this may lead to nematode infestation, stunted growth and eventual demise of the plant. Generally they should be planted in well-drained soil with plenty of organic matter that will enable them grow into drought tolerant crops once the plant has developed. Soil PH of about 6.0-7.0 is desired.  Farmers from arid and semi-arid areas should try out figs; they are among the fruit trees that can thrive in these areas. For maximum fruit production, Plant fig trees in areas where they will get plenty of sunlight and free from competing trees. Good water management, including regular irrigation during initial stages and mulching helps maintain tree health. Fig plants can be trained to tree or shrub form, it all depends with the farmers needs and which form does well in a given area.

Fig fruit

A young fig fruit

If figs are planted in the ground, fertilization is less necessary and should only be done after doing a soil test. Compost manure is sufficient to create an enabling environment for the fig plants to thrive. In case there is need to use fertilizers, it should not be applied at planting time. Generally, figs do not require regular fertilizing; excessive fertilizer application can have negative effects on fruit quality.  All in all, sufficient nutrients must be supplied to ensure the tree is healthy. Leaf analysis and soil test will come in handy when tailoring fertilizer needs.

With good preventative maintenance figs can be relatively pest and disease-free. Most common pests include; nematodes, mealy bugs, fig beetles, borers and scales. The most important disease is the fig rust, which is a fungus disease that attacks the leaves and anthracnose. This can be controlled by spraying copper fungicides from time to time as a preventative measure. Another important disease is fig mosaic virus, so far there is no cure, and affected plants should be removed so that the virus does not spread. Infected plants should not be used for propagation. Source disease free seedlings for planting and maintain proper sanitation during the lifetime of the fig plant to prevent any disease or pest attacks. Orchard hygiene is important and prevention is better than cure, prune to remove all weak, diseased or dead limbs each dormant season.

Fig Seedlings

Fig fruit seedlings

Figs take 3-4 years to start producing a viable crop. Sufficient irrigation will increase fruit size and production. Fruit thinning will also increase fruit size. Figs can bear two crops a year, the first crop produces substantially compared to the second crop.  Figs are Picked from the tree as they ripen, ripe fruits do not exude a milky sap when picked. One should be careful not to get in contact with the milky latex which can cause slight skin irritation.  Fig fruits are normally eaten fresh but they may be dried. So far we have seen two varieties doing well in Kenya, we don’t know their names but they can be differentiated by the fruit color. There is a variety that produces yellow figs when ripe and one that produces dark purple-brown figs. For those willing to plant a few fig plants can contact us and make an order.

Figs are among the underutilized fruits in Kenya.  At this moment we are not sure if it is commercially viable unless one has a special market. The fact that a fruit commands a high market price doesn’t guarantee commercial viability. Fruits like kiwi, litchi, pomegranate, raspberry, blue berry, goose berry and fig are retailing at more than 1000/= a kilo but the market is limited. Not many Kenyans are aware of the mentioned fruits, we are optimistic that as the masses get informed they will embrace some of these under-utilized fruits. It takes time and expertise to build an industry around a certain fruit crop especially if it is not a mainstream fruit crop. For starters plant a few fig plants for own consumption and sell or donate surplus. Fruitful season!

 

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