Kenyan farmers have found a lifeline in adding value to their harvested produce which is not only increasing the produce’s shelf life but also increasing their earnings. This is coming at a time when there is over production, many people having joined farming due to the economic harshness brought about by Covid 19.
Such has been the case with the high yielding mango farmers in Kitui County who have traditionally counted losses after the market exploded due to an oversupply. The mangoes may have impressive returns to those who invested in them earlier, but an obsession with the crop by more smallholder farmers ended up creating a glut in the market, leaving late entrants with bunches rotting in farms.
This is the case that drove Simon Musyoka of Ithiani Village to think outside the box on how he would get the best out of the mangoes; and he began adding value to his produce by obtaining mango flakes. Mango flakes are peeled and chopped pieces that have been dried for use on a later time. It is estimated that Kitui County has a population of about 1.1 million people and it is categorized as an arid and semi- arid region. It is characterized by unreliable rainfall across the year. However, mangoes trees remain green eventhough the area is dry. The region is one of the Kenya’s arid and semi-arid lands where mango farming is adaptable hence offering an opportunity to improve social economic status the mango farmers in the region.
“Having been a farmer for a while, I ventured into value addition in 2019 when I registered Sunsweet Fruit Farm Produce not only to add value for my mangoes but also to purchase from other farmers in Kitui, to curb also on post-harvest loses that have become a recurring trend after every harvest,” Simon said.
Sunsweet Fruit Farm Produce, is also training mango farmers to dry theirproduce using low cost solar dryers. Simon says that dried mangoes are ideal for export since many countries have unrivalled appetite for such and this market can be tapped by Kenyan farmers.His target market also includes the local hotels and events like county forums and workshops.
While a single mango would yield a maximum of Ksh10, a sachet of Mango flakes weighing 100grams would go for as much as KSh 200 with the flakes lasting for more than a year, unlike the raw mango which can’t last for more than two weeks when ripe.
“It is an interesting time to be a smart farmer in Kenya. The appetite for value added products locally and the opening up of regional markets is working in our favor. The future of food security in definitely is value addition,” he said.
Besides value addition, Sunsweet usually train farmers on the concept of post-harvest handling of mangoes and how to mitigate the effects of climate change. The company has eight permanent employees who run the operations of the company both in production and administration. This innovation by Simon Musyoka has played a key role in socio-economic development having benefited over 20,000 poor and vulnerable members of the communities residing in the County.
A major contributor to food scarcity in the country has been the massive post-harvest losses that occur due to low-value addition and inadequate cold chain facilities. Food Agriculture Organization’s (FAO 2014) report on Food Loss Assessments, approximates that Kenya losses between 20% – 50% of its agricultural production due to post-harvest losses.
Value addition also promotes the growth of backward and forward linkages and in the process creates the much needed productive jobs for the youths and equally increases the purchasing power of citizens. Increased purchasing power means increased demand for locally made products and this in turn raise the local market share of manufactured products. As demand for locally made products increases, so does the demand for agricultural products to cater for the new market and ultimately demand for farm inputs such as fertilizers, better machinery that will also lead to the expansion of the agricultural sector.
Moreover, value addition provides additional foreign exchange earnings through export of agro-processed products. However, as a country if we recalibrate our thinking towards Agro-based manufacturing we can significantly minimize this wastage and increase the quality of products and their shelf life through value addition.