Kenya: Farmers dry and process mangoes into value-added products

January 13, 2019
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Frida Mbai is smartly dressed in a white dustcoat. She has just finished cleaning, slicing, and placing mangoes on trays. The 66-year-old mother of eight is now positioning the trays on a steel rack to dry the mango slices in a drying chamber.

Mangoes are perishable fruits, rotting quickly and easily. But dried mangoes have a longer shelf life, which reduces the amount of fruit that is wasted. Mrs. Mbai can store dried mango to sell for a better price later in the year when the supply of fruit in the market is low.

She says, “I used to take my mango fruits to the nearest market and bus stop, but I would return with very little money since mangoes are all over.”

Mrs. Mbai has 60 mango trees. She lives in Kambiti village in Murang’a county, about 70 kilometres from Nairobi, the capital city of Kenya.

She says it has always been a struggle for the women in her area to make enough money from mango fruits because of oversupply and a lack of post-harvest management techniques. These challenges force farmers to sell their mangoes at low prices. Otherwise, the mangoes would simply rot on the farm.

According to Mrs. Mbai, farmers are compelled to accept prices as low as two Kenyan shillings ($0.02 US) per mango from middlemen, who resell the mangoes at ten times that amount in Nairobi.

The Kenyan Department of Agriculture estimates that 30% to 50% of harvested mango fruits are wasted due to poor post-harvest management.

To deal with these challenges, in 2013, small-scale mango farmers in Murang’a county formed Kambiti East Mango Growers Self-help Group. The members of the group help each other reduce post-harvest losses and find ways to access better markets.

The group now has 15 members and is adding value to mangoes by processing them into crisps and powdered snacks. This is one way to increase shelf life and avoid a glut of mangoes on the market at harvest time.

Patrick Sila is the chairperson of Kambiti East Mango Growers Self-help Group. He says processing mangoes into different products has increased mango farmers’ incomes.

Mr. Sila says the group started processing mangoes with a solar drier, but has switched to steam technology because steam drying is faster and uses locally available materials as fuel, including maize cobs, macadamia nut shells, compressed sawdust, baobab husks, and tree trimmings.

The group purchased a steam drying machine for 1.8 million Kenyan shillings (about $17,500 US) from an organization called Village Industrial Power. The group is paying the amount in instalments.

The farmers in the group were trained by different organizations on how to process and add value to mangoes. Mr. Sila adds, “They [also] trained us on how to take care of our mango trees, how to prune, and how to harvest.

He says the group sells dried mangoes at between 513 Kenyan shillings ($5 US) and 821 Kenyan shillings ($8 US) per kilogram and earns around 350,000 Kenyan shillings ($3,400 US) per season. The group uses part of the money to repay the drying machine loan and shares the remainder equally among the members.

Mrs. Mbai says that adding value to harvested mangoes by drying and processing has minimized fruit losses at her farm and opened up market opportunities she couldn’t have imagined. She explains, “It is unbelievable how things can turn around. I never thought I would ever be financially independent.”

This story was produced with support from The Rockefeller Foundation through its YieldWise initiative.