Citrus farmers count losses as Covid infections decline

citrus

Mary Syombua on her pixie farm in Wote, Makueni County.

Photo credit: Pius Maundu | Nation Media Group

The citrus fruit season is slowly taking shape in Makueni County, with dozens of trucks flocking the area in search of pixies, tangerines and oranges.

However, as production increases, farmers are not a happy lot. The fruits are fetching the lowest prices in two years. In 2020 and 2021, a kilo of the citrus fruits sold at between Sh100 and Sh150.

But buyers are currently offering Sh50 a kilo for tangerines and pixies and Sh20 for oranges.

The low prices are blamed on the general decline in Covid-19 infections across the country,  with the Ministry of Health reporting an average of 40 cases daily from a high of over 2,000 in 2020 and 2021.

The high infections in the two years boosted demand for the fruits as people ate them to raise their immunity.

Others used the fruits to make all manner of concoctions to alleviate symptoms of Covid-19. This greatly lifted the prices up keeping farmers happy.

On Mary Syombua's farm in Wote, her fruit trees bend under the weight of heavy tangerines.

The mother of five, like many other growers of the most important cash crop in the area, is not amused.

Citrus fruits

"The fruits are going at throw away prices. The season is yet to fully start yet prices are this low, we wonder how things will look like in the coming weeks," she notes.

According to the Ministry of Agriculture, Makueni County leads in the production of citrus fruits followed by Kwale, Kilifi and Lamu counties.

In 2019, the area under citrus fruits in Makueni stood at 2,296 hectares. This was an increase from 622 hectares the previous year. This translated to more production and money in farmers' pockets.

The Agriculture ministry notes that farmers earned over Sh594 million in 2019. This comes to 31.2 per cent of the total value of citrus fruits the country produced that period, according to Dianah Muli, the Trade chief officer in the county.

Muli notes that earnings went up in 2020 and 2021 as a kilo of pixies sold for as much as Sh150.

“The middlemen are exploiting us. At Sh50 a kilo, I cannot recoup the costs of maintaining the orchard," said Syombua, hoping that she could reach buyers directly for her to earn more.

She said if juice makers could go for the fruits on the farm, farmers would earn more. However, buyers have absolved themselves from exploitation claims, noting market forces have come into play.

"There are a lot of off season pixies and oranges in Makueni County this year. The pixie market in Nairobi is already flooded with the fruits, which explains the prevailing low prices. There is no way I can buy a kilo at Sh80 when it is fetching Sh60 in the market,” said Josephine Kyengo, citrus trader.

The Ministry of Agriculture advises farmers to form cooperative societies to prevent exploitation.

“Farmers wield more bargaining power for their produce when they are organised. In the meantime, fruit farmers should conduct market surveys to acquaint themselves with demand and supply forces before taking their crop to the market,” says Nichodemus Ngeka, the head of the Horticultural Crops Directorate in Makueni County.

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