It is yet another mango harvesting season in Eastern Kenya, but as it has always been over the years, local fruit growers here might not pocket much from the harvests.
Straddling between arid and semi-arid climates, the Eastern region for its favourable climatic conditions is the country’s leading mango producer. The region’s Makueni County tops in mango production yielding 280,239 metric tonnes of the fruit annually — grown from 4,311,375 mango trees, followed by Machakos with 506,544 trees cultivated by 17,676 farmers.
Makueni mangoes alone are valued at Sh4.7 billion. But many smallholder growers here still struggle to live by their activity nonetheless.
Mr Simon Makau, a mango farmer in Wote, Makueni, says he has over 150 trees. Farmers, he explains, are confronted by dozen of challenges atop them Bactrosera dorsalis, a destructive fruit fly specie capable of destroying up to 80 percent of a fruit yields.
The heavy losses and missed opportunities resulting from the fruit fly attack forced Mango Technical Working Group which comprises the national government, Makueni County government, USaid, Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Service (Kephis), Rockefeller Foundation and Technoserve, among other stakeholders to kick off a fruit fly free zone campaign to eradicate the flies in the county.
Through the campaign dubbed Komesha fruit fly, farmers are sensitised on the benefits of applying modern pest management technologies.
When they invade a farm they lay eggs under the fruits’ skin. The eggs later hatch into larvae and begin to feed within the fruit causing it to rot, and drop on the ground.
The aim in the technological push is to create a pest-free area ultimately resulting to reduced post-harvest losses, improved quality and food safety of mango products, according to experts. The two-year campaign is further expected to lead to increased export market share for mangoes by 30percent in the first year by addressing the market compliance.
Mr Isiah Kirema, an expert at Technoserve, explains that the integrated pest management technologies include the use of pheromone traps, food bait traps, biological controls, and farm sanitation.
“Pheromone traps or male annihilation technique involves use of fruit fly traps for both mass killing and monitoring the fruit flies. The traps usually contain male lure laced with insecticides,” he explains, adding that reducing males ultimately reduces the fruit fly reproduction and population.
Female flies on the other hand are eradicated using protein bait laced with killing agent or food traps. The bait is sprayed on the mango canopy.
“Females require protein to lay eggs and therefore will spot sprays of protein bait which end up killing them upon consumption,” explains Mr Kirema.
Farmers will also use biological control to complement other strategies. Scientists have found some fungi such as Metarhizium are effective in controlling the flies. The Metarhizium kills the flies by feeding on them.
”Farmers should also maintain cleanliness on their farm. Diseased fruits should be collected in a sanitation bag then placed in the sun so that the flies are killed by the sun’s heat,” the expert advises, adding that the diseased fruits can also be buried to prevent fruit fly escape.
Farmers will be given resources which include funding, training, and equipment to eliminate the flies. The youth will be employed as spray service providers.
Speaking during the launch of the campaign in Wote, Makueni Governor Kivutha Kibwana notes that “the idea is to ensure that we have a robust campaign to ensure that the Sh5 billion that we should make from our mangoes is attained and pocketed by farmers.”
Creating and monitoring pest-free areas and surrounding areas of low pest prevalence 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 US.
Dr Esther Kimani, Kephis managing director says farmers lose a lot both in terms of harvest and market opportunities due to Bactrosera infestation.
Low quality fruit, according to Dr Kimani, has forced many potential mango buyers to look the other way. Lucrative export markets such as the European Union, US, Japan, and Australia wary of the pests being introduced in their borders, imposed strict regulations preventing importation of infested fruits, hence locking out Kenyan farmers.
Unable to meet sanitary restrictions Kenya imposed a self-ban on mango export to Europe and the US between 2010 and 2014.
The market dynamic left local farmers at the mercy of middlemen who offer low prices. The infestation has seen them lose out on the Sh1.3 trillion international export market, according to the ministry of agriculture.
Dr Kimani, however, hints that the ban could be lifted early next year if the country meets the required market conditions.
The campaign will be implemented in Makueni and Kitui counties before spreading to other mango growing regions.
“Creating pest-free areas to address the fruit fly menace, will create a fruit fly free zone that can begin capturing the lucrative European and US markets for mango,” saysMr Tom Carr, the Chief of Party of the USaid- funded Feed the Future project.
Mangoes are the second most common fruits in Kenya, after bananas. Latest reports indicate that mangoes are grown on 49,098 hectares of land producing 779,147 metric tonnes of mangoes valued at Sh11.9 billion which is about 21 percent of the total value of fruits produced in Kenya.
The domestic value of horticulture production is more than Sh216 billion; fruits alone contribute Sh57.5 billion — 26.5 percent of the total value in 2016.
According to a 2010 report by the Institution of Development and Management, income from mango farming contributes about 40 percent of the farm household income in the region.
The Horticultural Crop Directorate reports that the top 10 mango producing counties by value include Makueni (30 percent), Machakos (23 percent), Kilifi (16 percent), Kwale (8 percent), Meru (4.5 percent), Embu (2.8 percent), Bungoma (2.1 percent), Tana-River (1.8 percent), Elgeyo-Marakwet (1.1 percent) and Murang’a (1.1percent).