Pixie is a very important fruit in Kenya’s horticulture. Pixie and other citrus production contributes significantly to the rural economy, reducing poverty rates through creation of rural employment. Most of the regions in Kenya enjoys conducive soil and climate for the production of pixie fruits. However, pests and disease, unreliable rainfall, low farm-gate prices, lack of proper farmer-organization, expensive inputs, lack of government support and subsidies, poor road infrastructure, uneconomical production due to land sub-division, and lack of commercialization of the crop are the main challenges to this potential.

Justus Kimeu on his farm in Makueni with pixies and planting basins. Photo | Isaiah Esipisu

Pixie Orange farming in Kenya does well in the arid and semi-arid lands (ASALs), predominantly in the Ukambani regions (Makueni and Machakos) and some coastal parts such as Voi.

Area under citrus is relatively higher in Makueni County at 13,482Kg/Ha as compared to 9692Kg /Ha in Machakos County. Orange growers are mainly small-scale and characteristically attain 4 -10 tonnes per acre. Oranges also do well in central regions of Kenya such as Murang’a and Nyeri and some parts of Western Kenya.

The fruits are sold locally in open markets or transported to Mombasa, Nairobi, and Nakuru, which are the largest target markets.

1. Agro-ecological and site challenges

Pixie trees can be grown over a wide range of climatic and edaphic conditions but proper site selection remains the key to successful pixie production. An important factor for economically viable yields is the availability of good quality irrigation water, even in the Humid Tropics. Therefore before selecting a site for organic citrus production, not only soil, but also water analysis is essential.

2. Variations in Conditions of Weather (Precipitation and temperature)

Most of the farmers in Kenya heavily rely on rain-fed agriculture, therefore, increased aridity due to climate change, coupled with their low income narrows the list of options to build up resilience.

Inadequate rainfall causes poor flowering which in turn bear small and unattractive fruits. To reduce excessive water loss, these fruit trees shed their leaves during dry seasons. Besides, rising temperature has been found to cause flower and fruit abscission.

Water is essential for pixie fruits during their flowering, fruit development, and after harvest. Therefore, a shortage of rainfall and high temperatures are believed to cause massive stress to pixie fruits. Kenya, just as other Sub-Saharan African countries, is particularly prone to the effects of climate change due to overreliance on unsustainable production and poor adaptive or mitigating capacity.

3. Pixie Farming Pests and Diseases

The dynamics of citrus diseases and pest increase are fast changing because of changing climate. Consequently, controlling them has become an up-hill task for many low-income pixie farmers in Kenya. Several studies have stressed pests and diseases as the main challenge facing pixie farming in Kenya.

Areas falling within the tropics have more exposure to sunlight and thus ideal for the citrus farming. Unfortunately, these conditions favor the growth and development of pests and diseases.

Some of diseases include Citrus wither tip caused by Colletotrichum gloeosporioides, citrus canker (Xanthomonas citri), Citrus gummosis (Phytophthora spp.), Citrus greening, Citrus anthracnose.

4. High Cost of Production (Inputs)

Bringing a pixie seedling into production is an expensive task that calls for high resource investments and patience. High cost of buying farm inputs greatly reduce profit margin. For example, rootstocks are expensive and take time to attain the grafting stage. During the development of the rootstocks (lemon seedlings), they require a lot of labor in weeding, watering, and care from ants, especially during the dry season.

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After grafting, the plant also needs frequent watering for the scion to develop and grow. The cost of pesticides and herbicides is also high, a factor that causes huge losses due to pest and diseases. Failure to eliminate weeds either physically or through application of herbicides leads to more habitats for pests. Besides, many farmers could not afford irrigation equipment and postharvest storage facilities which leads to losses.

Pixie farming is a labor-intensive venture requiring good husbandry practices to bring it into a profitable bearing.

The most common husbandry practices in pixie are weeding and pruning. Lack of investment capital and incentives has made it hard for citrus farmers to carry out proper weed and pest management.

Most citrus trees are highly infested by weeds and other herbaceous climbing plants.

5. Competition from Other Producers

Competition from other pixie producing area such as Tanzania, Egypt and South Africa is a challenge pixie farmers face when selling their produce. An influx of citrus from Tanzania is one of the main factors that greatly affect the market value of Pixie from areas such as Makueni county.

Tanzanian pixie and other citrus creates unfair competition in the market as they are normally subsidized or produced at a lower cost as compared to Kenya’s. Therefore, the Tanzanian citrus tends to be cheaper.

Pixie Tree At Farmers Trend Demo Farm
Pixie Tree At Farmers Trend Demo Farm – Photo John Kiruthi

Most farmers complain about low prices offered by buyers especially during the peak seasons from June to September.

6. Poor or Lack of Agriculture Extension Services

While skewed weather patterns contribute majorly to food insecurity globally, lack or insufficient good agronomic practices equally have a share of the blame. Kenya’s agriculture system is deficient in agricultural extension services while private extension services are too expensive for the smallholder farmers.

The ineffective and poor agricultural extension causes poor agricultural productivity.

The lack of highly trained and qualified extension officers to offer extension outreach on pixie farming is a missing link for the farmers. Most of them do not know the best insecticide to use and when, pruning mechanisms and procedures, knowledge on alternating the Active Ingredients (AI) of chemicals, scouting, and identifying pests, grafting, and best scion varieties.

7. Poor Commercialization of the Crop

As compared to other crops such as potatoes, tomatoes, tea, mangoes, and coffee, the pixie industry in Kenya lacks formal commercialization. There is no formal and standard system ofย  marketing, a factor that has posed challenges to the development of the crop.

Sustainable commercialization of crops brings about profitable production of a particular crop. The idea behind sustainable commercialization is based on the coordination and governance of innovation through marketing, integration in the present agroecological systems, and germplasm development of the crop.

In Kenya, there is minimal formal development of planting materials of the crop. Although Farmers Trend produces and sells Pixie seedlings, most of us are cultured by individual small-holder farmers.

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Besides, pixie farming has not attracted research as compared to crops like mangoes or cereal crops like maize.

8. Poor Market Linkages and Cartel Networks

Most pixie traders are brokers who buy farmersโ€™ produce at a throw-away price and sell at lucrative prices. Besides, farmers who are lucky enough to have a means of transporting their products cannot enter the main pixie markets in Mombasa, Nairobi, and Nakuru.

The pixie market is highly fragmented into a cartel system and brokers that determine both on-farm and market prices for the produce. The brokers and cartels block new entrants into the physical markets and command huge profits while the farmers get a pittance.

9. Poor Road Infrastructure Linking the Farms

The essence of good and reliable transport connectivity to rural areas in agriculturally potential areas cannot be overemphasized. Good infrastructure enhances the smooth flow of information between farmers and buyers. Farmers are connected to marketing opportunities, input supplies, and other agriculture-related services.

Remote areas in developing countries often have poor roads and telecommunications networks; a deficiency of a developed and diverse monetary economy; a poor flow of market information and high levels of opportunism among contractual actors of agricultural producers. Farmers face a challenge during harvest periods in terms of transporting their produce from their farms to main roads.

Most of the pixie farming in Kenya is done in remote regions that are linked with poor road connectivity. Some roads are unpassable during the rainy season. Farmers in these regions are forced to find alternative means of transport such as the use of animal labor to get their produce to the main road. Besides, the buyers are reluctant to buy produce in areas that will pose them a challenge in getting the fruits to the market at the right time.

10. Poor Organization among Pixie Farmers

Most pixie farmers work as individuals and no subscription to a farmer’s group.

Without an organization, it is very hard to set a collective starting price per kilogram of pixie, which
further widens the door to intermediaryโ€™s exploitation. Most farmers do not understand the advantages of belonging to a farmerโ€™s organization. Farmers, therefore, lack the knowledge and positive attitude on how organizations can help them produce and market their produce.

Belonging to a group empowers farmers to possess economies of scale. Also, farmers are also able to influence marketing networks and attract better prices. The inability to work as a group leads to poor information sharing, transport sharing inconveniences, and marketing.

11. Lack of credit/Investment Capital

Pixie farmers in Kenya have little or no access to low-interest borrowing to purchase equipment and other inputs. The smallholder farmers, most of whom do not subscribe to a farmers’ cooperative, therefore face financial constraints in citrus production, from paying of labor to agrochemicals, farm equipment, and other on-farm costs.

CONCLUSION

  • Addressing key challenges to pixie farming would be a great move to optimize profitable production. Proper commercialization of the crop would redirect more returns to the farmer.
  • Agricultural extension services are a major turning point in addressing agronomic practices and the management of pixies.
  • The need for more research in the citrus industry is necessary to address key diseases and pests that cause huge economic losses.
  • Improved governance, building both organizational and human capacity, and proper agricultural policy formulation is key to address these challenges.
  • Development of new varieties, dissemination of new technology, assured input supply, access to financial services, and strong marketing support are actions that can be taken towards solving these issues.
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