When cartels infiltrated the National Cereals and Produce Board (NCPB) in 2018, Edwin Kipkoech Rono, 32 decided to cut his losses and divest from maize farming before they leeched him dry.

The farmer who would deliver over 6,000 bags of maize needed a crop that offered attractive prices. After doing his homework, he decided to venture into passion fruit farming on his 150-acre farm.

Three years down the line, he is among youthful farmers in the North Rift region who are minting money from horticulture produce targeting the export market after shifting from traditional grain and dairy farming.

His first stab in the sub-sector began by researching on the type of horticultural crops that can be grown in the area depending on soil fertility and market availability. His research led him to a farmer in Sergoit who trained him.

With the proceeds he got from maize production, he invested Sh150,000 into passion fruit farming on a three-acre plot which enabled him to generate substantial capital to invest in large-scale farming.

He plants the purple variety and has since expanded his production to 15-acres. He leases his land at Sh15,000 per acre annually with the contract spanning for three years.

Mr Rono harvests 10 tonnes per one acre once a week which he sells to Uganda because of the available market compared to the local market.

“Ugandans love juice hence all my produce I sell to Uganda at Sh100 per kilogramme. If we were depending on our local market, I could not have ventured into it,” he explained, adding that he reduced his maize acreage to 30 acres which give him 1,500 bags.

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In the event that there are unfavorable conditions, Mr Rono can harvest around 30,000 kilogrammes of passion fruits.

According to Mr Rono, expenses of passion fruit farming are much lower compared to maize farming making it a lucrative venture.

“Maize production is a bit expensive because, in passion fruit, most costs are incurred only when applying pesticides for blight,” he said, adding that passion fruit is harvested for two years before starting afresh.

Starting with a workforce of one, Mr Rono is now an employer of 28 casual workers.

“The good thing with this kind of farming is that I am my own boss and I have also employed others on a casual basis,” he said.

Mr Rono said that the biggest nightmare in passion fruit farming is getting stable prices, arguing that whenever there is an election, prices go down as low as Sh20 per kilogramme.

“Recently when there was an election in Uganda, prices came down and we suffered huge losses because a kilo of passion fruit was Sh20,” he said.

“Since our election will happen next year, I am going to reduce acreage under this fruit until after polls because of the uncertain nature of our politics,” Mr Rono added.

He attributes his success in horticultural production to the application of appropriate production techniques and the availability of a ready market for the produce.

“Horticulture is proving to be a more lucrative venture compared to maize cultivation because of the ready market at attractive prices,” said Mr Rono while encouraging the youth to invest in agribusiness.

He plans to plough back the profits he earns in this business and later venture into real estate.

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“In the next 5-10 years, I would love to be in real estate. I have already started because I have purchased some plots which I will use in rolling out this project,” he said.

According to the Horticultural Crops Development Authority (HCDA), North Rift region has the potential to produce 25,000 and 20,000 tonnes of mangoes and passion fruits respectively annually but lack of a steady market and pathetic state of infrastructure has discouraged farmers from investing in the business which is much profitable as compared to other crops.

“More than 40 per cent of mangoes produced in the region go to waste due to lack of market while middlemen offer low prices for the fruits subjecting farmers to exploitation,” said the HCDA report released in March last year.

The region produced horticultural crops valued at Sh13.6 billion last year compared to Sh 8.6 billion the previous season.

Farmers in Uasin Gishu County earned over Sh2.6 million from more than 48,000 metric tonnes of passion fruit cultivated in an approximate area of 360 hectares.

Nandi County produces an average of 7,000 kilogrammes of passion fruit monthly targeting regional and export markets.

Most farmers in the region have received support from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and Kenya Horticulture Competitiveness Project (KHCP) to invest in mango and passion fruit cultivation.

[email protected]; [email protected] ; BusinessDalyAfrica

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