Kilifi farmers demand pineapple processing firm

Ms Irene Juma Achieng, a resident of Malindi inspecting her four acres of pineapple farm located at Changoto village in Magarini, Kilifi County on April 3, 202.

Photo credit: Charles Lwanga I Nation Media Group.

Pineapple farmers in Magarini, Kilifi County have appealed to the government to construct a fruit processing factory for their produce after incurring loss worth millions of shillings for lack of market during Covid-19 pandemic.

The farmers say the situation was worse during the last year’s Covid-19 pandemic that restricted movement of people from Kilifi, Mombasa and Nairobi which led to decomposition of pineapples in farms.

Ms Irene Juma, a resident of Malindi whose four-acres piece of land in Changoto, Magarini has grown pineapple said the open-air market in Malindi and Mombasa is unable to consume all their produce, leading to wastage.

“Pineapples just like other fruits and farm produce are highly perishable and our biggest challenge is to transport them to the market and sell before they spoil,” she says, appealing to the county to build a firm for value addition of their produce.

Ms Joyce Wairimu, a fruit vendor in Malindi says the pineapples lacked market during the peak of Covid-19 pandemic, despite the farmers harvesting tonnes of pineapple fruits.

“Before the Covid-19 pandemic, I used to sell about 80 to 100 pineapples in a day, but the number has reduced to about 30 to 50 pineapples per day,” she adds.

According to a report done by Kilifi county government department of agriculture in 2019, pineapple production in Magarini was ranked top among the major cash crops in 2017, with a turnover of 32,000 metric tonnes.

“Pineapples realized an estimated turnover of Sh960 million in 2017. The county currently produces only about 21,538 metric tons of the fruit valued at Sh646 million before processing,” says the report.

A pineapple farm located at Changoto village in Magarini, Kilifi County.

Photo credit: Charles Lwanga I Nation Media Group.

The report further says that the productivity of the pineapple remains low at 22 tonne per hector in the region, against a potential of between 50 to 70 tonne per acre.

So far, about 575 families in Marafa and Adu wards directly depend on pineapple farming for survival and the acreage is daily increasing due to its good returns and demand in the market.

Mr Renson Kambi, a farmer in Marafa who has put his 22-acre farm in Kilulu says pineapple being drought-resistant can withstand harsh weather conditions such as high temperatures, strong winds and drought, has better benefits for the regions.

“I started pineapple farming years ago and the benefits are many. I have planned more than 400,000 suckers in my 22-acre farm. During good seasons and if we have bumper harvest like now, I can make a profit of about Sh150, 000,” he says.

Mr Kambi says he has been growing the crop for the past 20 years and activity has been a god income earner for him.

Early last year, the Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organization (KALRO) partnered with Kilifi County government to carry out an aggressive campaign for large scale growing of pineapples.

This after research conducted by the KALRO indicated that the good climatic conditions and soil favour the growth of ‘smooth cayenne pineapple variety’ in Magarini Sub County.

Dr Lawrence Muragwa, the KALRO Head of Seed Unit says research also indicates that the smooth cayenne pineapple variety growing in most parts of Magarini has a unique ‘taste of sweetness’ compared to pineapple growing in other places of Kenya.

So far, the crop is mainly grown in the semi-arid parts of Marafa, Adu and some parts of Jilore in Malindi for food and commercial purposes where it is sold in markets at Malindi and Mombasa for profit.

“Pineapples being grown in Kilifi are the sweetest in the country. We have already developed a local name around Marafa called ‘Marafa Sweet’. That is the name we want to market in Kenya for the sake of marketing the pineapples in supermarkets,” he says.

The researcher said that they are already working with farmer groups to increase the planting acreage and market the product abroad.

“We are looking for markets in Germany, United Kingdom (UK) for Kilifi pineapples if they are in excess. The other area of focus is to look for diseases and act swiftly,” he adds.

Dr Muragwa says KALRO began research to determine the best arrangement of pineapples in the farm after finding out that farmers were planting pineapples locally without knowing the geometry of planting.

“The suckers grown in Kilifi should range from between 7,000 and 10,000 plants per acre while in Thika and Kiambu, it is 22,000 plants per acre,” he says “We also doing an experiment on how much manure you can use in pineapple farming so that you can get good products for the size wanted by the international market.”

Kilifi CEC of agriculture Luciana Jumwa Sanzua says the county has partnered with Danish International Development Agency (DANIDA), KALRO and other stakeholders to promote pineapple farming which is turning out to be a beneficial agribusiness ventures in the county.

“We want to encourage farmers increase the acreage under pineapple plantation to enable steady supply of the product once the processing factory is built,” she says, adding that the existing amount of pineapple from the locally available Marafa Sweet and Mwanazi varieties is not sustainable.

Ms Sanzua says they are also coming out with policies that shall enable pineapple farming listed among the most beneficial agribusiness ventures in the county.

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