Dry land unrelenting Passion fruit farming

Dry land unrelenting Passion fruit farming


By Bernard Muhia

In the dusty hills of Kithimani in Matuu, Machakos County is one determined and resilient fellow, Mr.  George Mulu, and just like his farm he is soldering on despite the dry weather that has hit the area. He grows yellow passion fruits and the rains didn’t come through like he expected and that has put him in a small bind.

However, his spirit is as strong as ever as he beams with optimism and enthusiasm. Mr. Mulu is a man who prepares for the worst as you will see as soon as you walk into his compound. He has a 500,000 litre dam that he uses to collect rain water but as the rains didn’t come as he expected, it has already been drained. He however is preparing for the next rainy season by digging a second dam that he hopes will store even more water for the farm. He is the perfect example of turning your circumstances upside down and curving out a positive, enabling environment for yourself.

In this dry area, he has managed to maintain an acre of yellow passion fruit which still looks healthy. It helps that yellow passion is a very hardy vine, one of the reasons he chose it. He has been farming yellow passion for two years and has enjoyed it so far. He however has his sights set on the purple passion variety which fetches more money in the market.

Mr. Mulu is getting a boost from the government with a free quarter acre kit that includes a drip system and dam liner. The extra water he will harvest will be used for the purple passion that he wants to switch to. This is because it is less hardy than the yellow variety. He has already started introducing it slowly with a few vines of Brazil purple. Mulu’s can-do attitude and outlook has even caught the eye of the officer in charge of extension services in Mwala, another Mr. Mulu, who enrolled him to become a beneficiary of the quarter acre kit. He has even taken to using the farmer Mulu’s farm as a demonstration farm for other farmers in the area.

Things have not always been like this. Mulu started out with melons and tomatoes which he admits failed terribly not just for him but for several farmers as well. Some had even taken loans to farm tomatoes but were left paying for loans from their own pockets as the crops had failed. This led him to find a crop that was more suited for the climate and soils there. This is when he turned to dryland farming. The one thing he has had working for him is the fact that he is a trained farm practitioner. He has a certificate in agriculture from the former UKAI Institute in Kitui. He has always loved agriculture and he even took it as a supplementary subject in high school. After graduating from UKAI, he however did not get into farming right away, instead he went to Malindi for a hotelier job and it is while working there that he would go out to surrounding farms to get fresh farm produce. He saw how the paw paw farmers he would source from would get paid handsomely. This reminded him that he had the papers and a farm back in Matuu that was lying idle. He decided to quit and moved back home and dived wholeheartedly into farming.

This was a good  decision for him as when the rains are good, he gets an average of 400 kgs weekly for the two months that are harvest time. Average yields are 15 to 20 tonnes per hectare. He sells to middle men/ women at fifty shillings per kilo. Infact one of the ladies who buy from him called during the interview to ask if there was anything that she could come collect.You can intercrop passion fruit with crops that it does not share pests and diseases with like spinach, leeks, beetroots, onions and strawberries. Mulu intercrops the yellow passion with tangerine and mangoes. The greatest challenge for his passion vines is fungal infections, spider mites and thrips. For this he enlists the help of KEPHIS in advising him what insecticides to use. He is also selling seedlings for passion fruit, paw paw and lemons. The paw paw seedlings are a variety called Calina IPB-9. Mr. Mulu is doing well despite all odds being against him.

Passion fruit is the third most popular fruit in Kenya. It comes in line after mangoes and bananas and is mostly grown in Kisii, Nyeri, Kakamega, Thika, Murang’a, Nyamira and Meru. These are areas that lie between 1200-2000 metres above sea level. Passion fruits need between 900mm to 2,000mm of well distributed rainfall per year. They are used to make cosmetic products as well as food flavors. They are rich in vitamins A, C and carotene. In terms of temperatures, the purple passion fruit needs between 18°C to 25°C while the yellow variety needs between 25°C to 30°C. Passion vines take an average of nine months to mature. The flowering stage is from three months from the time the seedlings are transplanted. The vines do best when spaced 2 metres apart and the rows 3 metres apart.

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