BY VICTOR ADAR
A campaign to create a pest free area might soon boost mango exports, improve production and quality, and benefit farmers especially those at grass roots level. Dubbed “komesha: zuia fruit fly ufaidike”, it will sensitize and create awareness on economic benefits of applying modern pest management technologies to curb fruit fly damage on mango fruits.
The campaign’s success will also mean a pest free area that will lead to reduced post-harvest losses as a result of fruit fly damage by 50% and improved quality and food safety of mango products. It will be implemented in Makueni and Kitui counties by the Mango Technical Working Group which comprises National Government departments, Makueni County Government, Feed the Future Kenya Crops and Dairy Market Systems Activity, Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Service (Kephis), Rockefeller Foundation, Technoserve, United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO), mango traders, researchers, innovators, development partners, and private sector players.
“We are going to work with all actors because we believe that this is doable and I know we will make significant results,” said Prof. Kivutha Kibwana, Makueni Governor adding that, “If we can achieve 32%, there will be benefits to farmers. We are intentional on working with young people, and we will make significant progress.”
Whereas the campaign will last for two years, some have questioned whether it will pay off. But experts say that the move is expected to lead to increased export market share for mangoes by 30% in the first year by addressing the market compliance.
Mango is the second most common fruit produced in Kenya after banana with latest reports from Kephis indicating that the fruit is grown on 49,098 hectares producing 779,147 metric tonnes of mangoes valued at Sh11.9 billion, which is about 21% of the total value of fruits produced in Kenya.
At the moment, Makueni County is leading in mango production in Kenya with a total of 4,311,375 mango trees grown by 109,465 farmers as per figures from Department of Agriculture, Makueni County. Machakos County is second with 506,544 mango trees cultivated by 17,676 farmers. It is an opportunity not to look away from especially if these figures are anything to go by.
According to the Institution of Development and Management, 2010, the income from mango farming contributes about 40% of the farm household income in the region. But despite mango’s potential contribution to economic and nutritional security for smallholder farmers, it has not been exploited due to challenges at various stages of the value chain.
“One of the major challenges to the mango fruit is damage by fruit fly which has been reported to range between 40 to 80%, resulting in increased cost of production, low quality fruits, post-harvest losses,” said Dr Esther Kimani, Kephis managing director during a media briefing that was recently held at Nairobi hotel.
Kimani said that Kephis imposed an export ban to lucrative markets since fruit flies are classified as quarantine pests and Kenya was previously not able to meet the strict phytosanitary restrictions, which is generally to do with basic rules for food safety, animal, and plant health standards – the restrictions allow counties to set their own standards.
The ban, which is expected to be lifted early next year, was effected in 2014 following high levels of fruit fly that saw Kenyan consignments intercepted on several occasions. A pre-emptive freeze is always a precautionary measure to stop introduction of pests to importing countries. But the problem is that the people, especially those at the bottom of the pyramid, are green about these matters. That is why the Feed the Future Kenya Crops and Dairy Market Systems Activity is now supporting a comprehensive campaign to sensitize and train farmers on fruit fly control and create pest-free areas to address the fruit fly menace.
“This will create a fruit fly free zone that can begin capturing the lucrative European and US markets for mango,” said Tom Carr, a representative of the USAID funded Feed the Future Kenya Crops and Dairy Market Systems Activity.
Creating and monitoring pest free areas and making surrounding areas low pest prevalent are among measures being put in place by Kephis to address issues that led to a pre-emptive freeze on mango exports to European countries and USA.