What you need to know:
- Some of the challenges farmers have to contend with are diseases like woodiness virus, brown leaf spot and wilt.
- Farmers have been asked to join cooperative societies where they can be trained on taking care of their plants.
When Solomon Shibelenje, a farmer in Uasin Gishu County, planted passion fruits in 2018 soon after retiring from National Bank of Kenya, he was doing it to break from the monotony of planting maize, the dominant crop in the region.
Today, Shibelenje who farms on five acres in Turbo, is a happy farmer.
“When I harvested my first passion crop, the season was not good but I got some Sh500,000 from an acre. This was incomparable to the four acres of maize I was planting that gave me Sh100,000,” he said.
Shibelenje is among farmers in the Rift Valley and western Kenya who are reaping from the crop having found ready market from exporting firms.
“I grow and sell my fruits to Equatorial Hortifresh Company. Market is, therefore, not a problem,” says Shibelenje.
The farmer notes that once one plants the seedlings, they must ensure the farm is free of weeds and the crops are adequately watered.
“After eight months you start harvesting your fruits and this will go on for 18 months.”
Moses Keitany, the chief executive of Equatorial Hortifresh Company, says farmers in western are taking up passion fruit farming due to high returns.
"Passion fruit cultivation has received a major boost because of its enhanced returns compared to other crops like maize and sugarcane," says Keitany.
From an acre of the fruits, he says one can reap up to Sh620,000 per season. However, despite farmers taking up the crop, he says production of the fruit remains low.
“We get orders from Belgium, Uganda and the UK but sometimes we are forced to cancel because our current production can neither satisfy local nor global markets,” Keitany points out.
According to him, Belgium requires a tonne of the fruits from Kenya each week while Kampala a similar quantity. The firm buys a kilo of the fruits from farmers at an average of Sh80. Further, they sell the grafted purple and yellow varieties seedlings to farmers at Sh50.
Similarly, trellising wires go at Sh4,500 per roll. The inputs are given to farmers on credit and the money recovered when the produce is harvested.
Alice Nalianya, a farmer in Lugari constituency, grows the fruits on an acre. They are planted in several rows supported with trellised wires and poles to keep fruits off the ground.
“The firm offers seedlings, trellising wires and extension services. I am looking forward to becoming a successful passion fruit farmer in Kakamega,” says Nalianya.
Antony Kirwa, an agronomist in Lugari sub-county, says the crop is now farmed in Kakamega, Vihiga, Bungoma, Trans Nzoia and Uasin Gishu counties.
“Over 150 farmers are growing the crop on 53 hectares, ranging from quarter to three acres.”
Some of the challenges farmers have to contend with are diseases like woodiness virus, brown leaf spot and wilt and as well as lack of water, especially during dry spells.
To realise optimum benefits, farmers have been asked to join cooperative societies where they can be trained and supported by both public and private players on taking care of their plants.
Hilary Onjoro, Kakamega County chief officer for agriculture, says the county is suitable for passion fruit production. According to him, the plant grows best in compost-rich and well-drained soils with a pH of between 6.5 and 7.5.
“Passion fruit is a natural climber that grows rapidly. The two types are differentiated by the colour of their fruits,” says Onjoro.
He notes purple passion plants are self-pollinating while the yellow variety depends on insects to transfer pollen from one plant to the next for pollination.