Leaders call for fund to support mango farmers

Panellists during a session on May 16 at the first national mango conference held Wote town

Panellists during a session on May 16 at the first national mango conference held Wote town, Makueni County. The conference brought together various players in the mango value chain as well as political leaders.  

Photo credit: Pius Maundu | Nation Media Group

A forum that brought together hundreds of mango farmers, traders and consumers in Wote town ended with a call on the government to create a fund to support the value chain.

“The government has sidelined mangoes for far too long. It focusses on other cash crops such as coffee, tea and sugar cane. We need to have a conversation on the establishment of a fund to support the mango value chain. The fund should be accessible to mango farmers just like the Coffee Cherry Fund,” Makueni Governor Mutula Kilonzo Jnr said at the first national mango conference held last week.

The county, which is the biggest producer of mangoes in the country according to the Horticultural Crops Directorate, is facing the challenge of lack of markets. This has seen some farmers replace their mango orchards with pixies, which are said to be more lucrative.

The mango conference, themed “Winning markets for Kenyan mangoes by building resilience and a competitive mango value chain”, came at a time when farmers are also grappling with heavy losses caused by pests and storage challenges.

According to the Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Services (Kephis), mango farmers lose more than 40 per cent of their produce after harvesting. They attribute the losses mainly to attacks by fruit flies and lack of storage facilities.

Kephis and USAID have embarked on an ambitious campaign to eradicate fruit flies in the mango growing zones.

“We have done what is required to get back to the European Union market. However, stakeholders need to maintain the phytosanitary standards to maintain the market,” said Fredrick Koome, an inspector at Kephis.

Horticulture Crops Directorate managing director Benjamin Tito asked farmers to diversify their mango varieties to enhance their competitiveness. He also urged them to form cooperatives to increase their bargaining powers in the market.

The government was called upon to replicate the Murang’a County government’s initiative to address mango production and marketing challenges.

Governor Irungu Kang’ata’s administration has guaranteed mango farmers minimum returns by creating a mango subsidy and striking deals with mango processors who have agreed to buy the commodity for at least Sh16 a kilo. Murang’a Agriculture Executive Kirangai Kamau said farmers earn an additional Sh5 from the county government for each kilo of mangoes sold to the selected processors.

“We have created a subsidy fund which is now anchored in law to drive investments that are geared towards assuring farmers of a return on their mango harvest. We are promoting market linkage and have identified mangoes processors and negotiated a minimum price. We are aggregating for farmers and so we are able to deliver the fruits in bulk. We have done that through the creation of a mango farmers’ cooperative society for the lower Murang’a region which has around 1,500 members,” Mr Kamau said on the sidelines of the conference.

Mr Kilonzo Jnr called on the relevant government agencies to expand mango production by ensuring the availability and accessibility of high quality planting materials. He pledged to initiate talks with his colleagues in a bid to bring together all the counties producing mangoes into a powerful caucus to inrease their bargaining power.

Although the Makueni County fruit processing factory has been instrumental in stabilising prices, Acting Agriculture Executive Joyce Mutua said mango farmers in the county are still grappling with exploitative middlemen. Makueni Speaker Douglas Mbilu asked the county governments to enact tough laws to tame these middlemen in the mango value chain.

However, Agriculture and Foods Authority chairperson Cornelly Serem cautioned against demonising middlemen, saying they are necessary.

Makueni Fruit Processors Cooperative Society chairperson Phyllis Nduva urged the county government to hire more extension officers and deploy them to guide farmers on, among other areas, choosing the right varieties of seedlings to grow to enhance their production.