Passion fruits, woos farmer back after a disastrous beginning

Passion fruits, woos farmer back after a disastrous beginning

Richard Ndungu and Michael Wainaina are passionate farmers whose desire to venture into passion fruit farming was a treacherous journey. Trained as fully fledged engineers; their farming ideas kicked off in 2010 with the normal maize production on large scale of around 80 acres on both owned and leased land. Unfortunately it turned out to be a baptism of fire as the rains failed terribly. They tried again for two consecutive seasons but the rain failed again. This resulted in them stepping back and walking away from the farm for almost 7 yrs because they felt they were not born to be farmers.

While continuing with their engineering activities, word reached them that the farmhand taking care of their piece of land had brought in some foreign contractors to take samples of murrum for excavation. With the help of security agencies, they managed to reposes back the land and repulsed the contractors. This led to them making frequent visits to check on the safety of the land which was not making any economical sense. The land is located along Thika-Kandara road and they narrate their passion fruit farming story.

After sometime, a friend of ours mentioned to us about passion fruit and he was travelling to Kamwangi to check on some vineyard. We accompanied him because we didn’t have a busy schedule. After several interactions and several observations, our farming desires were re-birthed. We decided to venture into passion fruits farming. Passion fruit is not an intricate crop and many people are not engaged in its production because of the waiting period before fruiting and the amount of investment required in terms of the trellising posts and support wires as well as laying of drip lines. Most farmers want 3-month crop to start harvesting.

After several consultations because we wanted to do it right, one of the farmers whom we had paid a visit introduced us to a seedling propagator who visited our farm and saw the potential of the piece of land. He advised us to begin with a small block to see how it unfolds and it was a miracle to us because the crop did so well. For farmers farming at Aberdare, the passion fruits at their area takes 6 months of harvesting but for us we harvested for a whole year. It dawned on us we are now towards a good farming trajectory.

It is after this realization that we engaged a farmer based in Embu who are cultivating various crops. He paid us a visit and gave us a lot of insights about farming being a blend of art and science. He introduced us to an agronomist for us to approach it from a professional angle.

We started off on an acre with 1,000 seedlings and we got a very low yield at the time because the agronomist focus was letting the vine to grow and by virtue of that, we removed the new suckers that sprouted and flowers. This was to discourage the plant from fruiting and encourage all the energies of growth to go into the vine to be able to stretch out and spread out. Once the vine reached the pinnacle of wire on the trellising post, we allowed it to start fruiting. At the start of harvesting we were doing 400kilos in a week, doubled to 800kilos this was in October 2019. In the year 2020, we were now harvesting 2tons per months and by January 2021 we were now garnering 5.9 tons per month and this propelled us to increase the acreage of fruits by planting on a third block.

For a successfully passion fruit farming the first key element is water; the more the water the vine receives the sweeter the fruit. Secondly, you have to incorporate fertilizer or manure and for us we use a mixture of goat and cow manure. In addition we have a foliar called calmboro which is essential. Calmboro stands for Calcium, Magnesium and Boron.

Calcium and Magnesium are present in the soil but they are usually in- balanced. When you spray directly on the leaves the plant is able to feed well. Boron plays a key role in the sweetening of the fruit. At the flowering stage of the fruit, agronomist advices us we need a bee to visit the flower 7 times a day but you can’t control movements of bees on flowers, ones you have boron it helps in the pollination of the fruit.

One of the methods we have devised on this farm is we don’t pluck the fruits from the crop. We let them drop from the vine once they are mature. The reason we don’t pluck is the aspect of plucking immature fruits. Secondly as you pluck the fruit you may injure the vine and damage the suckers’ .It is also imperative to note it is easy transfer a disease from one vine to the next vine. It is safer to just allow the fruit to drop by itself.

The seedlings we use here we propagate by ourselves. The yellow passion is what we use for the rootstock because it has a stronger root system and it’s a good feeder and for the scion we use the purple variety. In average in stock we have around 3,000 seedlings which retail at Ksh 50.

Purple fruit demand in the market is high because the fruit sells itself. When you have a good fruit that is sweet many high end restaurants and supermarkets comes calling.
With proper management, passion fruits vary in terms of their life span based on the variety. When you have a high yielding variety we expect it to be in production for two and a half years. There are others that take 4 years but they are low yielding, personally I would recommend the high yielding which take a shorter period and give higher yield.

When venturing into passion fruit farming, the bigger the project the more cost effective is. Unfortunately, I won’t advise a farmer not to venture into it that way. The safer approach could be have a half an acre on an acre that will mean you will require to plant 500 to 1,000 seedlings, monitor the crop, get to learn the ropes, study the challenges and grow with the crop. Once you have mastered the craft, expand.

For starters kindly check the kind of soil you have and the region you are farming from. Apparently, purple yellow passion is a high altitude crop; the lower altitude favors the yellow variety. Having a good water source is ideal because passion fruits are vines and they consume a lot of water. Farmers need to ensure they have the right seedling without that you are off on the wrong course.

For our future, we are hoping to plant 20,000 vines and doubling the labour. We have managed to streamline our workers and we have systems in place and God willing we would pursue value addition and try to access foreign markets.

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