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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.

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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.

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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!!!!

Fruit Trends in Kenya

For the better part of the last six months we’ve been on the ground making a follow up and conducting farm visits to the farmers we have partnered with. This post will highlight what fruit crops home gardeners and farmers are embracing and the commercial viability of the different fruit types. We encourage sustainable diverse cropping systems where farmers plant more than one crop. This spreads economic risk and offers the opportunity of reducing production costs and increasing profits. The more farmers’ successfully produce more of one type of crop, the more they are whipped by low prices making them a victim of their own success. That’s the greatest irony of farming as dictated by the laws of supply and demand, hence the need for diversified farm systems.

Such diversified systems require thorough planning and close monitoring to cater for the different components. For easy management we recommend 2-3 main crops and a set of rotational crops, for example, we have a farmer initiating a mixed fruit orchard in Murang’a doing hass avocado, tree tomato and apples. A serious fruit farmer should also embrace an integrated pest management strategy and maintain the farm in ways that make them attractive to beneficial insects and pollinators such as bees, and implement interventions to protect them. No pollination, no fruit.

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Pomegranate tree in Nairobi

 

Start with what you can manage as you progress. Farming is a journey, more of a marathon than a short sprint. It requires more resilience and focus on a desired farming venture. There those who get it right in their first attempt and there those who fail initially or severally but later on get it right because they chose not to give up. Grow that which has market potential, whether it is for home or commercial purposes. Copying what your neighbor or other farmers are doing is not a sin; but don’t just copy for the sake of copying. If you can read this post, then you are intelligent enough to do your own research before investing in a given venture. What you settle for has to be a crop that performs well in your locality and thrives in your soil. Test and analyze your soil and optimize it accordingly, the health of the soil determines the health of the plant.

Failure is inevitable, the love and passion of your venture will play an important role in such times. One of our clients insisted on planting apples, grapes and other fruits at the coast just for the love of apples, she even went for high chill varieties against our advice. She failed severally, many apple seedlings she purchased from different nurseries died within the first year. But she understood that there was a price to pay to conduct her own research and know what works for her. Despite of the many failures she now has the privilege of harvesting a few apples of different varieties from her 2 year old plants after 4 years of trial and error. She is now planning to do grapes and apples commercially. Consult widely, do your own research and search yourself too. Identify fruit crop(s) that you will love cultivating, works well for you and can generate good income.

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2 year old Apple tree @ the Kenyan coast

 

 

Our country is blessed; plenty of different fruit trees and food crops thrive in different parts of the country. Local farmers are spoilt for choice on what to venture in. A typical Kenyan farmer faces a lot of challenges and hurdles from farm to market. The successful ones will be those who will emerge as problem solvers and solution providers despite of the many challenges; those who focus on providing practical solutions to problems experienced by the population rather than sit on a problem or write a thesis/research paper to be archived on the shelves. Globally, our country is a horticultural giant, there is a huge demand for our horticultural products that include; flowers, herbs, veges, fruits and nuts. For Kenyan farmers to meet this demand, best farming practices should be embraced to ensure quality and food safety. Locally, there is a rising demand of healthy farm produce that is free from harmful chemicals. Produce crops that comply with GAP standards from the on-set no matter the target market. Below are some of the fruit varieties that are commercially viable and worth giving a try.

Avocado– The hass variety is the most preferred for those targeting the export market due to its high oil content, appearance and low perishability. There is a niche market for Fuerte and Pinkerton variety locally; there high perishability does not make them good candidates for the export market.

Passion Fruit – The two common varieties are; sweet yellow and purple passion. Both varieties do well locally and there is demand for both in the local market. The export market prefers purple passion; Europe is one of the main markets. In the past few years farmers from Rift valley have shifted to passion fruit cultivation without regret and we are seeing a lot of activities in Uasin gishu, Bomet, and Kericho.

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Passion fruit orchard @ the Rift Valley

Mango – There are different mango varieties that thrive in different parts of our country, but so far there is high demand for the Apple mango variety that thrives in hot areas. Other popular varieties include; Kent, Tommy and Haden. There is an emerging export market for Kenyan mangoes in China, hope this holds up.

Citrus– New citrus orchards are being developed in the coast, eastern and rift valley by farmers who are targeting to meet the local demand. Most of the citrus consumed locally are imported because the local supply does not meet the demand. There is need for improving production and quality of local citrus. The different varieties cultivated are: Pixie, Minneola, Clementine tangerine, lemon, Washington navel, Valencia among others.

Strawberry – So far chandler variety is the most successful varieties to cultivate. Most farmers are producing for the local market. We are trying out Quinault variety and some other giant strawberry varieties to see their viability.

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Strawberry harvest in Nyahururu

Tree tomato – A good number of farmers have ventured in tree tomato cultivation to meet local demand. Red oratia is the most grown variety. One can choose to cultivate grafted tree tomato or the non-grafted ones.

Grapes– This is one of the fruits whose potential remains unexploited by the Kenyan farmer despite it doing well in various parts of the country. Most commercial grape ventures are established by wineries and geared towards wine production. Grape plants grown in the country are mostly grown by home gardeners for personal consumption. The local demand for table grapes and raisins heavily relies on imports.

Apples– In the near future high quality locally grown apples will be at the shelves in your grocery store. New apple orchards are cropping up in different parts of the country targeting the local market. Different varieties have been tried and tested in different parts of the country and the results are promising. These varieties include; Cripps pink, Anna, Golden Dorset, Fuji, Gala, Red delicious and Braeburn.

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Young Apple Orchard @ the Kenyan Coast

Bananas – This is the most important fruit crop in Kenya. Banana farming has been gaining momentum thanks to attractive market prices and availability of quality propagation material through tissue culture. There are different varieties that perform well in Kenya, study what the market wants and go bananas.

Pears and plums– A good number of farmers in Molo, Limuru and some parts of Kiambu  have cultivated pears and plums that they supply to the local market. There are low chill pear varieties that do thrive in warm areas. The hood variety is a low chill variety that has been proven to do well in Kenya. We have distributed a few seedlings to various farmers in western Kenya and Nyanza to gauge their performance.

Kiwi– So far we have no success story on kiwi cultivation, we are still in the infant stages. We can’t confidently say that the kiwi plant thrives in Kenya. The oldest plant we are monitoring is almost 3 years old and we are seeing no sign of fruiting. The greatest challenge in kiwi production is the propagation material. Most kiwi seedlings in the market are propagated from seed; this takes long to fruit or might fail to produce fruit.

There also other fruits which are mostly grown for personal consumption or on a smaller scale. They include Persimmon kaki, Sour sop, Pomegranate, custard apple, star fruit, lychee, guava, loquats, peach, fig fruit, rasp berry, white sapote, jack fruit, apricot and dragon fruit among others. In case of any queries feel free to reach us via mail at admin@plantafruit.org. Fruitful season ahead and remember to consume atleast one fruit a day before any meal.

 

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