One of the challenges any farmer faces is postharvest losses, which usually eat deep into earnings. This problem is however gradually becoming a thing of the past for Embu County farmers thanks to the creativity of a self-help group.
Karurumo Horticulture Self-help Group, runs a fruits value addition and processing enterprise mainly targeting small holder farmers.
Formed in 2003, the group now has 15 active members, according to its chairperson, Alloys Mbogo.
Mr Mbogo says Embu County has more than 400,000 mango trees. The problem, she says is that large quantities of the fruits go to waste, especially between December and April when the fruits are in season, for lack of proper storage and processing facilities.
“More than 50 per cent of mangoes go to waste each season, with brokers taking advantage of the situation and exploiting us. They cheaply acquire our mangoes then sell them at hefty prices, making big profits,” he says.
“This has strengthened our resolve to find ways to store our harvests to maximise returns.”
With the help of German organisation, Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit GmbH (GIZ), the group learnt different fruit processing practices, especially for mangoes and bananas which are predominant in the region.
They started by setting up a processing plant at the premises provided by one of the members. Later through their own contributions and bank loans, they bought land on which they established the enterprise.
Mr Mbogo says they spent Sh450,000 acquiring the piece of land. They then built a greenhouse dryer at Sh500,000 and established the other structures for Sh2 million.
The group’s efforts soon caught the attention of TechnoServe, an international nonprofit organisation that sponsors agribusiness solutions to poverty in developing countries by linking people to information, capital and markets.
TechnoServe’s business advisor for Central Kenya region, Charles Murage says while working with smallholder farming enterprises in the region, the organisation noticed the group’s determination and sought to help them boost their productivity.
Mr Murage linked the group with Yieldwise, a Rockefeller Foundation initiative aimed at addressing post-harvest losses among smallholder farmers in Africa.
Under the Yieldwise initiative, the Rockefeller Foundation seeks to demonstrate how postharvest losses can be reduced in four value chains of mangoes in Kenya, maize (Tanzania), as well as tomatoes and cassava (Nigeria).
Dr Jane Ambuko, the team leader of the University of Nairobi’s Postharvest Project under the Yieldwise initiative notes that the group’s passion for fruit processing and desire to succeed influenced their decision to work with it.
“Before we started the project we conducted a reconnaissance survey to identify the right group to work with. We started interacting with the group members in June 2017 and sought to know their challenges and how we could use our knowledge and skills to address them,” says Dr Ambuko.
“So far we have trained them on good harvest and post-harvest handling practices for fruits. The farmers have also been trained on good manufacturing practices for smallholder processing.”
She notes that the project will save the area’s farmers from losses and exploitation by middlemen.
“Value addition and processing prolongs the shelf-life of the produce and minimises these losses. It also offers more profit on the same produce and improves the nutrition and living conditions of those involved,” says Dr Ambuko.
The farmers can now do wet and dry processing. Besides wet processing, the farmers can also dry mango fruits into shelf-stable dried products such as chips.
Thanks to the project, the centre now boasts two modern solar-powered tunnel dryers each of which has the capacity to dry one tonne of mango fruits in one loading. On a hot day, the dryer can handle two loadings in a day.
To diversify their product range, the farmers will also be trained on processing a variety of products. The horticulture experts note that there is a huge market for processed, shelf-stable produce especially in foreign markets.
Besides small-scale wet and dry processing, the centre is equipped with cooling and cold storage facilities to enable them aggregate or store their fruits for some time without getting spoilt.
The cold room can preserve the fruits for at least 35 days.
Dr Ambuko says the cold storage facilities have facilitated produce aggregation at the establishment and now large scale buyers can find fruits in the quantities and quality they desire. At any one time, the aggregation facility can hold up to 10 tonnes of mangoes.
“The important part is that with the storage and processing facilities, local fruit farmers now have a say in determining the prices they want.”
Mr Mbogo says one of the challenges they have faced is attaining the Kenya Bureau of Standards certification for their products to access a wider market.