Growing pomegranates is one of the most lucrative agribusinesses, but few engage in it.
The other week, I visited farmer David in Kajiado County for first-hand information on farming pomegranates, whose consumption is on the rise thanks to the health benefits of the fruit.
David informed me that the fruits fetch as high as Sh1,000 a kilo in the market, pointing to how profitable they are.
Pomegranate is a tree or shrub that adapts to most regions where citruses grow well. These areas have hot temperatures that receive adequate sunlight to allow the ripening of the fruits.
The crop that matures in three years does well in well-drained soils, thus, those with high clay content should be avoided.
Normally, pomegranates grow 5-10m high with multiple branches. Being a bushy plant, pruning is essential as too many branches result in stem breakages due to overweight and prevents the penetration of light.
The shrub flowers are bright red but there are some fruitless varieties that are grown for aesthetic purposes. The fruits’ husks have two parts, an outer hard pericarp and an inner spongy mesocarp, which comprises the wall of the fruit where seeds attach.
The edible part is usually the berry with seeds and pulp produced from the ovary of a single flower. The trees are drought-tolerant but can be grown in wet areas, where the crop would, however, be prone to root decay.
A farmer growing them in wet areas should ensure there is proper drainage before investing in their production.
Before planting, the soil pH should be adjusted to 6.5 and phosphorus fertilisers should be incorporated in the soil if levels are low.
The soil should have a good depth, hence the need to carry out proper land preparation, which should be done early enough while ensuring well-decomposed manure is incorporated in the soil.
The crop grows easily from the seeds and can be propagated using cuttings of 25-40cm to avoid the genetic variations.
One should source for the planting materials from registered nurseries and pay special attention to the variety and the origin of the mother plant. The seedlings go for Sh200 each.
Layering is also used as a method of propagating the fruits. The spacing should be 3 by 3 metres and the tree density should permit adequate sunlight penetration for growth, developing of proper fruit colour, adequate airflow between trees and efficient movement of implements and people during harvest.
In Kenya, several varieties are produced locally with different fruit size, exocarp colour ranging from yellow to purple, pink and red, seed-coat colour, the hardness of seed, maturity, juice content and its acidity and sweetness.
Fruit flies and ants, which mostly attack harvested ripe fruits, are some of the crop’s enemies.
On the farm, however, mealybugs are a big threat as they attack the fruit trees. Damage occurs when the mealybugs settle where two fruit touch, or inside the flower end of the fruit. Rot can occur when the mealybugs deposit honeydew between fruits.
Nymphs and adults of mealy bugs suck sap from the leaves and tender shoots. Leaves often show characteristic curling symptoms similar to that of a virus.
A heavy black sooty mould may develop on the honeydew like droplets secreted by mealybugs. The infestation may lead to fruit drop.
For successful control, an integrated approach should be followed, that is using the cultural, biological and chemical methods.
Pomegranate trees are especially sensitive to wind, thus extremely windy areas should be avoided when planning for production sites. Trees should be planted as a border crop to act as windbreakers.
Weeding should be well done in the orchard to prevent competition of nutrients and sunlight. Weeds could also host insects that affect the crops. Cover cropping helps in the control of weeds.