Post-harvest losses can cut deep into farmers’ earnings. But this problem is gradually becoming a thing of the past for farmers in Embu County, Kenya, thanks to the creativity of a self-help group.
Karurumo Horticulture Self-Help Group runs a fruit processing enterprise that mainly targets small-scale farmers. The group was formed in 2003 and now has 15 active members.
Alloys Mbogo is the group’s chairperson. He says Embu County has more than 400,000 mango trees. The problem is that at least half of the fruit is wasted. Much of this waste happens between December and April when the fruit is in season, because farmers lack proper storage and processing facilities.
He explains: “More than 50% of mangoes go to waste each season, with brokers taking advantage of the situation and exploiting us [mango farmers]. They cheaply acquire our mangoes, then sell them at hefty prices, making big profits…. This has strengthened our resolve to find ways to store our harvests to maximize returns.”
With the help of a German organization called GIZ, group members learned different fruit processing practices, especially for mangoes and bananas, which are major crops in the region.
Using members’ contributions and bank loans, the group bought land and set up a processing business.
Mr. Mbogo says the group spent 450,000 Kenyan shillings (US$4,440) to buy the land. They built a greenhouse dryer for 500,000 shillings (US$4,930) and invested another two million shillings (almost US$20,000) in additional equipment.
The group’s efforts soon caught the attention of TechnoServe, an international non-profit organization that sponsors agribusiness projects in developing countries.
Charles Murage is TechnoServe’s business advisor for central Kenya. He says his organization noticed the group’s determination and tried to help it boost its productivity.
Mr. Murage linked the group with YieldWise, a Rockefeller Foundation initiative aimed at reducing postharvest losses among small-scale farmers in Africa.
Dr. Jane Ambuko is the team leader of the University of Nairobi’s postharvest project under the YieldWise initiative. Researchers at the university developed the fruit processing equipment.
She says: “So far we have trained them on good harvest and postharvest handling practices for fruits. The farmers have also been trained on good manufacturing practices for smallholder processing.”
She says the project will save the area’s farmers from losses and exploitation by middlemen.
Dr. Ambuko adds: “Value addition and processing prolongs the shelf-life of the produce and minimizes these losses. It also offers more profit on the same produce and improves the nutrition and living conditions of those involved.”
The farmers now do both wet and dry processing. Besides wet processing into juice, the farmers also dry mangoes to make products such as chips.
Their processing centre has two solar-powered tunnel dryers. Each dryer can handle one tonne of mangoes at a time. On hot days, the dryer can handle two batches per day.
To diversify, the farmers will also learn to make other products. Horticulture experts say that there is a huge demand 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. The cold room can preserve mango fruits for at least 35 days.
Dr. Ambuko says the cold storage facilities allow the centre to collect, store, and distribute products from several sources. The facility can store up to 10 tonnes of mangoes. This means large-scale buyers can find fruits in the quantities and quality they desire.
She adds, “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 the farmers have faced is attaining the Kenya Bureau of Standards certification for their products to access a wider market.
This story was adapted from an article titled “Embu fruit farmers reap big from value addition plan,” published by Business Daily Africa. To read the original article, please see: https://www.businessdailyafrica.com/corporate/enterprise/Embu-fruit-farmers-reap-big-from-value-addition-plan/4003126-4396508-8ix11xz/index.html
Photo: Karurumo Horticulture Self-Help group. Credit: Brian Okina / Business Daily