The market value of fruit produced rose by one-fifth last year to Sh49 billion, driven by new premium crops and increased interest in farming.
Data from the Horticultural Crops Development Authority (HCDA) shows bananas remained the most valuable fruit with harvests worth Sh18.9 billion. The crop is largely produced in Meru, Migori, Taita Taveta, Kisii and Kirinyaga.
“Increase in production and value could be attributed to more land under irrigation – approximately 128 hectares – in Migori County, adoption of superior varieties, exposure of farmers to modern agronomic practices, packaging and standardisation,” said HCDA in its annual industry report released last week.
HCDA noted counties like Kirinyaga and Murang’a that sold the bananas by weight instead of bunch size had higher farm-gate prices. New fruit such as grapes and strawberries also proved to be money makers for farmers, yielding higher values than the others.
There was a total of 131 acres under strawberries which yielded 410 metric tonnes worth Sh50 million.
The figures indicate that a metric tonne was retailing at approximately Sh122,000, which was the highest return compared to grapes that averaged Sh96,200 a metric tonne and apples at Sh48,900.
“Grapes are a new tropical fruit crop in Kenya which command premium prices in the local fresh market. It has been grown under irrigation in some warm to hot areas, in particular Yatta, with success,” said HCDA.
Watermelon was the only fruit that recorded a drop in value, which was attributed to a drop in price. Watermelon produce was valued at Sh1.8 billion down from Sh3 billion in 2012, when the price of each was Sh46 compared to last year’s price of Sh37.
Total domestic value in the horticulture sector in 2013 amounted to Sh177 billion compared to Sh148 billion an year earlier. The growth was attributed to farmers committing more land to fruits and vegetables after realising they made better economic sense. The crops occupied an area of 1.5 million acres up from 1.2 million acres in 2012.
The government has been looking at using agriculture to tackle youth unemployment. It is offering soft loans to set up green houses and irrigation projects. Private companies such as listed investment firm Centum have also identified agriculture as a sector of growth.
Agriculture has previously failed due to reliance on rain-fed farming, planting of low quality seeds, lack of financing and poor market linkages.
The Nairobi Securities Exchange is currently in the process of setting up a commodities exchange which will help farmers link with buyers without relying on middlemen.
Commercial banks have also started structuring loan products that favour farmers, especially on the repayment schedule.
County governments are now setting standards for packaging of farm produce to ensure the farmers are not exploited by buyers. The sector has, however, been asked to invest more in value addition for maximum gains.
The horticulture sector has overcome stringent measures on chemical use introduced by the European market, which is the main consumer of Kenyan farm produce. French beans, which were hardest hit in 2012, recovered with 31,973 metric tonnes exported from 22,553MT in 2012.
“This is attributed to integration of the traceability system in supply, enabling exporters to monitor chemical use by farmers directly,” said HCDA.