The secret behind booming mango farming in Eastern, Coastal regions in Kenya
Mangoes have been the major fruit to supplement the staple food for communities in Eastern and Coast regions of Kenya since time immemorial.
The indigenous mango plant sprouted naturally in the wild and grew into tall and bulky trees that not only bore fruits but also provided a canopy to shield locals from the sizzling sun during dry seasons.
Today, these indigenous plants are being phased out by the introduction of exotic productive fruit trees that mature in a relatively shorter span of time and produce better mangoes that are marketed abroad.
These hybrid fruits are locally known as sweet apple mangoes. But just like the indigenous species they too come in seasons.
This being the mango-producing season in the eastern slopes of Mt. Kenya, we visited a farmer from Tharaka Nithi County to learn more about the sweet apple mango species production in the region.
Daniel Gitari, a farmer from Marimanti area, in the lower parts of Tharaka Nithi County, is among several local farmers whose family livelihood almost entirely depends on the production of exotic mangoes.
The family has invested a large sum of money on their farm. The farm consists of a large parcel of land ranging between 3-4 acres. It is their main source of livelihood and therefore Gitari does not totally rely on nature for his investment to bear fruit.
“I began planting the mango seedlings roughly three decades ago and all I can say is that I have no regrets whatsoever. All my children have been educated upto the tertiary level through the proceeds of selling these mangoes,” Gitari narrated adding that age is now catching up with him and he no longer works on the farm on a daily basis.
His investment would have been difficult to implement but things became better when luck came knocking on his door shortly after he started farming.
This was when mango farming in the area was piloted as an integrated pest management programme by the Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Services (KEPHIS), a government parastatal whose responsibility is to assure the quality of agricultural inputs and produce to prevent adverse impacts on the economy, the environment, and human health.
Data from Metropol Harvest indicates that export value for mangos was at Ksh.9.7 billion in four years to 2020.
In 2019, Kenya exported 9.4 million kilos of mangoes valued at Ksh.1.5 billion compared to 7.1 million kilos in 2020 valued at Ksh.1. 2 billion.
In 2014, Kenya imposed a self-ban on the export of mangoes to the European market due to the fruit fly pest
Gitari disclosed that KEPHIS operations were introduced in the area by the general manager of Finance and Administration Stephen Ithili who was a representative of the agency’s managing director.
From Ithili, Gitari came to learn that the programme was put in place to ensure compliance with the market requirements because some of these products are exported worldwide. Good quality is therefore a premium to maintain good reputation to boost trade ties.
He further found out that, setting a buffer zone as a wide pest free area is also another reason for the programme. The buffer is set up to avoid the spread of pests in the farm and more particularly a cultivated area. Pests can lower the yields. Pests are controlled using the ‘fruit fly’ traps. These traps are tied on the stems and branches of the mango trees and are monitored by checking them twice weekly.
“The pros of mango farming can at times weigh down the cons. I would be lying if I said that this journey is free of any shortcomings. It only takes a strong-willed person to be persistent. Too much rain as well as inadequate rainfall can be challenging. Medium rainfall is recommended for good crop husbandry. Another challenge comes in when we don’t have enough money for fertilizers and pesticides,” Gitari explains.
A survey on other farms practicing the same, revealed that many farmers have a challenge in getting market for their produce. When all farmers within the same locality are into mango farming the market prospects in the same geographical area diminish. Outside markets are also influenced by demographic factors. This came to reality when Covid-19 hit the world recently. The economic times have greatly changed posing a challenge to both the local and international markets.
As much as Tharaka Nithi is well known for producing sweet apple mangoes, just like in any other venture there are challenges that farmers grapple with to ensure continuous supply of the juicy fruit to consumers. Fluctuations in the market is the major challenge to mango farmers in Tharaka Nithi County.