For most farmers in Kenya today, the big dilemma is whether to carry on with agriculture as a business venture.
Unreliable weather patterns have crippled their rain-fed farming while the small profit margins from the sale of unprocessed products are not encouraging to the farmers who contribute immensely to the country’s food security and employment.
According to the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), over 80 per cent of Kenyans depend on agriculture for food, employment and income.
This means that agriculture still remains the backbone of the Kenyan economy despite challenges of climate change and increased population.
The 2017 Kenya Economic Survey points out that agriculture contributed to 32 per cent of Kenya’s Gross Domestic Product.
Analysts say that whilst farmers have little influence on the changing climatic conditions, taking up value-addition of the products could boost their income.
Value-addition makes the best of produce by putting them and their by-products to various uses.
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“Farmers incur a lot of losses at the farm level because we only take the best fruits or vegetables for export,” said Dorothy Otieno, the director of sales and marketing at Miyonga Fresh Greens, a fruit and vegetable exporter, based in Machakos County.
Ms Otieno was one of the exhibitors during a recent marketing workshop held in Nairobi.
The exhibition for value-added agriculture, livestock and light manufactured products as part of a selection process for participants who will take part in a test marketing event that will be held in Ethiopia between February 22 and 28.
She told the Business Daily in an interview that the level of losses farmers incur because of rejected mangoes during production made the company to come up with a way of salvaging the rejects.
From the rejected mangoes, they started making mango powder.
“We decided to add value to all the rejects to boost income for farmers. When packing, 30 per cent of the fruits or vegetables is normally rejected, we needed to control the wastage,” she said.
Control fruit flies
One of the advantages of collecting the rejects is that it controls fruit flies and pests which are not only a nuisance, but which can contaminate food with bacteria and other organisms.
The company has contracted farmers from some of the driest regions in Kenya-Garissa and Makueni.
Powdered mangoes have a long lifespan and do not lose nutritional value, she said. It is used to flavour yoghurt and smoothies, and even make cakes and salads.
Another firm that makes mango powder is the Kitui Enterprise Promotion Company (KEP).
“We make fruit concentrates from the powder and thereafter make juice which has 60 per cent fruit content,” said Mrs Serah Mwendwa, the sales and marketing officer at the company.
To improve nutrition in the community, the company blends the powder with sorghum flour, she said.
The company sells the products in the local market.
“Mangoes are seasonal. During peak periods we make the concentrates. We aim to turn seasonal fruits to perennial ones,” said the officer.
The company works with more than 1,200 mango farmers in Kitui County who have been supplying the fruits for the last six years.
In addition to the fruits, KEP has been promoting the planting of mango seedlings to further improve farmers’ income.
“When they get the money they not only buy food but also pay school fees for their children,” she said.
In bid to lift the standards of living in Kitui, Mr Antony Kimani started making powder from baobab fruits.
“Despite the fruits being in season for eight months every year, they were ignored and were food for monkeys. But that has changed because residents can now get money from them,” he said.
Kitui is one of the areas classified under the arid and sem-arid lands (ASALs) in Kenya and the baobab tree is common.
“Residents depend on rain to grow seasonal crops. But baobab fruits could be an alternative source of income,” he said.
He noted that residents use the money they get from collecting or crushing the fruits to buy food.
Mr Kimani is the managing director of the Starlite Valley Producers, which is located at the Kenya Industrial Estates in Kitui Town.
His project has impacted at least 1,000 residents in Kitui. He receives at least one tonne of the fruits every day, he said during an interview.
The company seeks to produce oil from baobab fruit seeds in future, he said, and added that the fruits are liked all over the world because they are nutritious.
He sells his products internationally and locally.
In Western Kenya, farmers can make as much as Sh44,000 per month from an eighth-acre land by planting 125 pawpaw plants, said Felix Asenji, the director of Kenya Papaya Products.
The company was established in the area after the realisation that residents over-relying on maize production still struggled to feed their families.
Most Vihiga residents face the twin problems of reducing maize production and rising population.
“People have been planting maize on very small parcels of land. Whatever is grown is not sufficient for even subsistence. After working so hard, they get nothing,” he said.
Moreover, sugarcane production in Western Kenya has been adversely affected by bad weather and other challenges.
The company buys paw paws to make jam, pawpaw latex to make beauty products, and honey from contracted farmers in the region.
One kilo of the fruit is sold for Sh40 while the same quantity of latex is Sh200, he explained.
“Sugar industry in Western is facing so many challenges. We are trying to make this a cash crop and a foreign exchange earner,” he said.