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FOOD FORESTS AS A LEARNING RESOURCE

Our flagship ‘education for sustainable development project’ at Kariobangi North primary in Nairobi was kick-started in 2012; 4 years down the line we have seen tremendous results. In between the years, great work has been done thanks to the more than 1000 people that took part in the project. There are those who contributed financially and those who offered their time to work in the project. We can’t mention everyone but we have shared photos of a good number of persons who took part. Our gratitude goes to the staff and leadership of Kariobangi north primary for their support despite the many challenges. Many thanks go to Eco Schools who saw the potential of the project and offered to boost and push it to another level.

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Eco Day Celebration

The children of kariobangi north now have the opportunity to see first-hand best horticultural farming activities being implemented in their school. Those with a passion for farming will have a platform to transform that passion into an enterprise or career. The school’s food forest has different fruit trees that include: apples, grape, sapote, loquat, breadfruit, mangoes, pears, guava, peach, Jabotica, brazillian cherry among others. The school has also planted sweet potato, banana and vegetables which they sell to the local community. This project offers a great learning experience, there is so much practical knowledge on different fruit types one can acquire when she/he visits the project.

This project plays an important role of connecting students with nature at an early age converting them into better stewards of our environment. We need to resurrect the tree planting culture that was emphasized by our former president His excellency Daniel Toroitich Arap Moi, and we believe the best way to do that is to target school going children. Of great importance is the acquisition of food growing/production skills that will go a long way in helping the students later in life. Students gain hands on experience in a hands off environment where they are allowed to experiment and make their own decisions. Students acquire practical knowledge in areas like; Composting, group dynamics, food safety, how to market their produce, pest management, fertilization, seed propagation, record keeping among others. The project also offers great benefit to the entire surrounding community who are free to visit the school orchard and learn one or two things from the different fruit species. Soon they will be able to purchase seedlings from the school’s tree nursery.

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Students taking notes at their food forest.

As an organization, we have no share in the projects we implement; anything we plant belongs to the school and all proceeds thereafter are reverted back to the project. Our purpose is to ensure the fruit trees planted are well taken care of and to develop a training and business model that will generate income and make the project sustainable. We take a maximum of 3 years in a school project and then we hand it over to the school after we have trained project beneficiaries to take part in the day to day running of the project. There after we only act as consultants in areas of: seedling production, crop protection, production planning, spray techniques & Schedule, irrigation & fertilization, adult learning, market strategy and sustainable farming.

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Members of the community visiting the school project.

We are seeking partnerships to ensure such a project is replicated in at least 2 schools in each county to enable students to plant, manage and harvest their own produce as they learn important life skills. Developing an orchard as a learning resource creates an opportunity for the students to be aware of environmental issues and come up with simple solutions to address them. Food security at a local level is tremendously important, especially when crisis hits. Farming is the foundation, as humans we need energy to function and the only source of energy is food. It’s high time we support farming and conservation initiatives both at a personal and institutional level; teach your kids to grow food, support tree/food growing programs in local schools, make donations to credible organizations such as the Green Belt movement among others. We all can be part of the solution by simply planting and taking care of a single tree.  And to our dear leaders who ride on any food crisis to gain economically and politically, we only have this to quote; “If you can’t feed them, you can’t lead them”- Anonymous. Plenty be found within our boarders.

 

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.

 

Avocado Cultivation in Kenya

Avocado is among the most nourishing fruits that are largely cultivated in the tropics. In Kenya, it is one of the most consumed fruits that is readily available in the market all year round. Going by the latest HCDA statistics, avocado has a fare share among the leading export crops and Kenya stands out as a major player in the avocado export market. Locally avocado is sold at the market place from between Kshs10 to Kshs 50 depending on the size and quality. Avocado trees are very productive and are capable of fruiting all year round. At maximum production a single mature tree can produce 70 to 100 kg of fruits per year.

There are avocado orchards flourishing in a wide range of environments but for optimum growth and yield, tropical regions with temperatures ranging from 25 to 30 degrees Celsius and rainfall ranging from 750mm to 1200mm is ideal. Avocado grows in a wide range of soils too, as long as the soil is well drained and the growing site doesn’t have a high water table. Heavy soils will make the trees susceptible to root rot. The selected site should be exposed to enough sunlight and protected with wind breakers if the area experiences frequent strong winds.

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Hass  Avocado Orchard

It is recommended to plant trees in a straight line to facilitate proper husbandry measures and harvesting. Spacing depends on the cultivar; it varies from 6m by 7m to 8m by 10m. Ensure you acquire certified and true-to-type seedlings from reputable suppliers. If you are planting the hass variety, its advisable to have a few of either fuerte or linda avocado trees for the purpose of cross pollination. We largely stock the hass variety due to its high demand and a few of fuerte, pinkerton and linda. As usual, carry out soil testing and analysis to establish the nutrient requirement. This will enable you make an informed decision on the fertilization program to implement. When planting, ensure you mix the top oil with farmyard manure, phosphate and soil bio-pesticide; we highly recommend Trichoderma.

During the initial growth stages, formative pruning is desirable to encourage lateral growth. Ensure all shoots originating from below the grafting joint are pruned off. Weed control and soil management are necessary to prevent competition for nutrients. Young trees should be mulched to increase water retention rate but ensure there is a gap between the mulch and tree trunk to avoid pest and disease infestation. Nowadays, rainfall patterns are highly unpredictable; ensure you have an irrigation program that will supplement rain. Orchard sanitation is the first step towards proper control of diseases and pests. We have an integrated pest management and crop protection programme targeting avocado farmers that can be utilized.

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Avocado seedlings

Avocado fruit does not ripen on the tree, but it matures on the tree. For this reason, proper timing should be observed when harvesting. Poor timing directly affects fruit quality. For those targeting the export market, good maturity development of the fruit to control the oil content and dry matter is of great importance. To meet the established standards, fruits that are sufficiently mature should be selected. Adhere to good handling and packing practices for better returns. Have a fruit season ahead and in case of any queries, do reach us via mail admin@plantafruit.org

Soursop fruit farming

Soursop is a tropical evergreen tree that produces fruit with a prickly yellow-green skin. Also referred to as graviola, all its parts from the root to leaves are edible or has medicinal value. It is a fast growing tree that starts producing fruit in the third year. The soursop fruit is sold in some of the major markets in Nairobi that include; Ngara, city and wakulima. There is no documentation on any commercial soursop plantations in Kenya but a few plants have been spotted in coast, Nyanza and central regions. Soursop (annona muricata) is often mistaken for or referred to as custard apple (annona reticulata) , they belong to the same family- annona, but they are two different fruits. We will explore Custard apple in our next article.

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Soursop fruit tree

Soursop grows in a wide array of soils as long as the soil is well drained. A soil PH of between 5 and 6.5 is ideal. The soursop tree is small in size and may serve as an intercrop between large fruit trees. Soursop can be propagated from seed or cuttings. Plant well developed seedlings and ensure they are mulched to suppress weeds and to improve moisture retention in the soil. Soursop trees prefer warm and humid conditions to thrive, they are very susceptible to low temperatures. On maturity fruit may emerge anywhere on the tree ; trunk, branches or twigs. The tree will require adequate fertilizing of which we recommend organic compost and mulching using organic material. Young trees can be supported using bamboo sticks.

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Flowering Stage

The tree starts to flower and eventually fruit in the third year, fruits are harvested when they are fully developed but still green. Thereafter it takes 2-4 days to ripen. A single tree can produce 60-70 fruits in a year. The fruit should be handled with care when harvesting to avoid bruising it. After harvest prune slightly as you eliminate dead wood. Soursop may be directly consumed when ripe or processed into ice cream, syrup, smoothies, juice, pulp etc. The fruit has a white fleshy and fibrous pulp with a sweet sour flavor and is rich in vitamin B and C.

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Mature soursop tree

There are various pest and diseases that attack the soursop tree. Locally it is more vulnerable to the fruit fly and aphids. Plant disease free seedlings and monitor your plants for any pests and diseases. In case of any attacks consult your extension officer; we do also assist farmers by offering them professional advice concerning the same. We have stocked a few soursop plants that are ready for planting, feel free to visit our demonstration project at kariobangi north primary or our main nursery at Thome, Kasarani. Happy gardening and make sure you plant a fruit tree.

FRUIT CULTIVATION FOR STARTERS

All along we have been highlighting fruit trees that we perceive have great potential to uplift the living standards of small scale farmers and home gardeners in the hope that many will embrace fruit farming. Our focus as an organization is on micro and small scale farmers especially those who are innovative and willing to embrace different farming techniques and crops. As much as most policy issues in the horticultural sector lean towards large scale farmers, micro and small scale farmers play a crucial role in the economy of a country. Food security is greatly boosted and hidden hunger reduced if many individuals engage in farming activities rather than a few large scale farmers whose main objective is high yields.

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We all are farmers by default and agriculture is a way of life that can also double as a business. The goal is to create a simple farming system that can be easily implemented and gives room for continual optimization of the ecological, economic and social benefits. You are your own teacher. Don’t rely entirely on our posts or what we say, get information from different sources that will enable you make an informed decision. Do your own research that will enable you decide on what you want to do and why you are doing it? Know thyself.

Fruit farming has its share of challenges along the value chain, from the farm to the market as fresh fruits or processed end products. Even if your farm is meant for personal consumption, the farm should be designed with the end market in mind. In other words, the farm’s potential to generate income and other environmental and social benefits should be exploited and put into consideration. You never know, later you or your inheritors might want to generate some income from your farm. There are many income generating opportunities that integrate well with an orchard; from offering demos, training, seedlings among others.

avocado treesHass Avocado orchard

Fruit cultivation is a long term activity; a grafted tree starts producing viable fruits in the third year, and starts producing optimally after the next 2 to 4 years then continually beyond generations. Hence there is need for good planning to realize short, medium and long-term goals. For this to be realized different crops and trees should be integrated in the farm system. A background check should be done to know the characteristics of the different kind of crops and fruit tree species that combine well and have a degree of symbiotic relationship. For proper results combine the right fruit tree and the right medium term (Papaya, cassava, sweet potato, tree tomato etc) and short term (vegetables, strawberry, herbs etc) crops and trees/shrubs.

Site/Land preparation
Consider location with reference to weather and market. The site should have plenty sunshine and excellent air flow. It is proper to do soil test and analysis so as to know the status of your soil. The soil should have good drainage and adequate PH. Soil testing facilities do exist that one can do testing at pocket friendly rates but we still feel that the prices should be reduced to enable an ordinary farmer access the service.

Planting and irrigation
Consider the correct spacing as per your needs. The pruning system to be used will determine the distance between trees. Source certified and disease free planting material and inputs. We advocate the use of more organic manure/fertilizer and less synthetic fertilizers. Settle for your preferred irrigation system, there are drip irrigation systems designed and meant for small scale farmers.

Tree training and management
Right management practices should be embraced. A well trained tree is much easier to manage and maintain and this calls for constant care from when the tree is young. Trees should be trained to facilitate cultivation, light penetration, spraying and harvesting. Consider the following too; Mulching, weed management, pruning, thinning and pollination requirements.

Pest and disease control
The best way to tackle pest and diseases is prevention. Plant disease free seedlings and ensure they are well taken care of. We favor integrated pest management (IPM) that combines different pest control techniques and strategies keeping the use of pesticides at low levels. IPM is a complex pest control process but cost effective with many benefits to the ecosystem and our personal health.

Marketing
Start looking for market for your produce before you harvest. Horticultural crops, because of their high perishability require an efficient marketing strategy. Come up with a marketing strategy that will identify potential buyers, how they will access the farm products and at what price. Small scale farmers can form groups that will enable them produce in bulk and access the export market as a single unit. Local fruit processing firms do exist in different counties that are in need of raw material, approach them and know the thresholds and the prices they offer.

Harvesting and storage
Harvest your produce at the right time for better quality. Fruits are harvested when they are mature or ripen. Use easy to handle harvest containers and ensure the harvesting tools are sterilized. Harvested fruits should be washed and treated to avoid propagation of diseases. Fruits are stored in a dry and cool place in flexible sacks, crates, cartons or baskets as they await consumption or value addition.

Conclusion
Farming on a small or moderate scale has prospects of generating competent income. There is need for Policy measures that improve the performance of small scale horticultural farmers. There are a variety of fruit tree species that perform exceptionally well in Kenya, hence need for more research and development to realize their potential. The setting up of fruit processing firms in different counties offers the Kenyan small scale farmer an opportunity to diversify into fruit farming. Thoroughly master your local problem, come up with solutions as you impact the lives of others while making a profit. Sustainable fruit farming offers a simple solution that combats climate change and food insecurity making it a worthy cause.

BREADFRUIT PROJECT 2015

We are looking forward to a fruitful 2015 as we continue to encourage farmers and home gardeners to embrace eco-friendly agriculture that adapts to climate change, and achieves higher productivity while delivers economic and social benefits. In partnership with Bonsai Global (http://www.bonsaiglobal.co.ke) we are embarking on a journey to sensitize Kenyans on the economic and environmental benefits of Breadfruit. A single tree can produce enough fruit to calorically sustain a modern family of 4 for six months over 75 plus years. Breadfruit can be used as a substitute for rice, and it can be processed into a glutten-free flour can serve as a replacement for wheat flour in making muffins, pancakes and bread. We have identified farmers from different parts of the country who will be trained on Breadfruit best production practices and given seedlings to kick start their practical project. The Breadfruit Institute (www.breadfruit.org) in Hawaii will be providing the seedlings to be distributed to farmers and schools in different selected areas.

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Breadfruit tree

Food self-sufficiency and sustainability are becoming hot topics and such an initiative will come in handy. Breadfruit is a fast growing versatile fruit that can play an important role in combating food insecurity and deforestation especially in different countries in Africa. With proper maintenance breadfruit can easily be grown in places with little space in urban areas and can also be inter-cropped with different plants on farms. Breadfruit farming is not labor intensive, requires less inputs and produces yields greater than any other starch alternative,including wheat, maize and tuber crops. Nutritionally, it is rich in iron, calcium, fiber, potassium, magnesium and its high in carbohydrates. Breadfruit can be boiled, roasted, baked or fried and has great potential to be featured in the everyday diet. There are more than 100 varieties of breadfruit but most prevalent ones are the Ma’afala and Ulu Fiti, provided by tissue culture through Global Breadfruit (www.globalbreadfruit.com).

For high produce and quality fruit, one should plant mature and healthy seedlings in a place where there is good air circulation. Breadfruit is an energy rich food that requires sufficient nutrition and regular watering during the first 6-12 months. The trees should be mulched after planting and beneficial cover crops planted around the tree to also increase biological activity. It is advisable to test your soil before applying any fertilizer and should be applied before the fruiting season. Healthy seedlings are disease resistant but one should watch out for snails, slugs, ants, termites and mildews. When it comes to pest and diseases, prevention is the best cure. Ensure the area surrounding your plants is clean and weed free to avoid pests.

breadfruitBonsaiglobal team presenting breadfruit seedlings

Within 2-3 years the breadfruit tree starts fruiting and with proper care the tree can produce fruit for more than 75 plus years. A single tree can produce 150-200 fruits in a year at peak production. We are in the process of identifying markets for breadfruit as well as creating an increased demand for it especially among gluten free persons and those who suffer from celiac disease. This will be achieved through the production of quality fruits, value addition and showcasing the immense nutrition and health benefits of consuming breadfruit and its potential to address hidden hunger. We are targeting farmers and schools in areas with slightly high temperatures that do not go below 16 degree Celsius at night and have irrigation or receive 1500mm of rain annually. Regions from Western, Coast, Eastern, North Eastern and parts of Rift Valley are areas where plants have already been experimented with. Drop us a mail in case of any inquiries admin@plantafruit.org

Plant a fruit for peace campaign

“When we plant trees we plant seeds of peace and hope”

Wangari Maathai

Our plant a fruit for peace initiative kicked off in Jan and ended on 28th feb 2013.We planted a total of 108 fruit seedlings of different varieties in various institutions. We encountered a lot of challenges but it was all fun. One major thing we noted as an organization is that Kenyan youths are willing to engage themselves in initiatives that can create social change but they lack platforms where they can fully express themselves. We have tasked our management committee to come up with innovative ways that we can use as an organization to engage these young ones on a long-term basis

We partnered with 2 churches, 2 schools,1 community based organization and 2 youth groups to plant 108 fruit  trees for peace.This proved that there is a lot that can be done if we work together in coming up with local solutions that address our problems.We are upbeat and bullish of the fact that we will have peaceful elections come Monday 4th March 2013. Our sincere thanks go to all our stakeholders, clients, volunteers, members and staff for their contribution towards this initiative. The fruit trees planted will be monitored to ensure that they grow well without disturbance or neglect.

@ Kariobangi primary-We planted 30 fruit seedling

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@ Karen-Planted 25 fruit seedlings

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@ Kariobangi-Planted 7 fruit seedlings

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@ Kariobangi

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@ AIC Church-Planted 14 fruit seedlings

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@ Anglican Church-Planted 12 fruit seedlings

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@ Taf Initiative-planted 20 fruit seedlings

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