Mango farmers in Kenya get access to new technology to counter post-harvest losses

Date: Friday, March 2, 2018

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Teresia Kawira examines the mangoes in her farm. She often loses a lot of her crop in the absence of adequate facilities to process and preserve the fruit. Photo: UN Women Africa

It’s mango season in Meru and Makueni counties located in the eastern part of Kenya. The trees are heavy with fruit, the orchards are fragrant with the sweet smell of ripe mangoes. While the demand for mangoes has exploded within Kenya and in regional markets, according to the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute, farmers often lose 40 – 45 per cent of their crop, primarily because of poor harvesting and post-harvest handling techniques, as well as pests and diseases.

This year, however, Teresa Kawira, 45-year-old farmer and a mother of seven children, is hopeful. She has just completed a three-day training supported by UN Women, on post-harvest handling and fruit processing techniques, using a new multi-food processing machine. The machine can process 7.8 tons of mangoes every six hours, and can be used to process other fruits as well.

“The main challenge that we have here as farmers is the rotting of mangoes on the trees,” explains Kawira. “This is because of the overabundance of mangoes and lack of technologies to help us produce other products from the mangoes that we harvest.”

Like many other women farmers in the area, Kawira has long days of work and many responsibilities. The possibility of supplemental income from mangoes brightens up her face.

The project, in collaboration with Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology (JKUAT) and Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI) and Techno Serve, and with funding from the Rockefeller Foundation, has trained 100 farmers, half of them women, from Meru, Makueni and Tana Riverin counties, in fruit processing, packaging and branding.

Recently, the project convened 30 farmers’ groups in Meru for a vigorous competition and awarded a multi-food processing machine to the Chaaria Group. Representation of women in the group and its leadership, availability of water and electricity to operate the machine, as well as proof of registration of their collective, were among the criteria used to select the winner.

“We are so happy that we won the machine, we are sure that if we carry on with it, our living standards will improve,” said Marisela Mwiti, a member of the Chaaria Group.

For the other participating groups, the experience was valuable as they learned new skills, and some are planning to set up collaborations among themselves to share a machine. The local governments have also promised to support farmers’ groups in acquiring such machines.

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Fridah Kawira gets ready to attend one of the training sessions on post-harvest technologies led by UN Women and partners in Meru County. Photo: UN Women 

“I am hopeful that with this technology, mango losses will be a thing of the past,” said Fridah Kawira, who is part of the Kathangari Mango Growers group. “A lot has improved in my life since joining the group,” she said, referring to the self-help group that she is part of. “I have managed to buy a cow, which produces milk for sale and consumption by my family. The money I make is used to pay my children’s school fees. I can honestly say that mangoes have helped to educate my children!”

For many of the women farmers, learning how to process, preserve and market various products from fresh mangoes was an eye-opener. Stella Musyoka, a 48-year-old farmer from Kyeni Kya Yathonza Group in Makueni said: “Through this training, I have learned how to make jams and juices. It will be easier for me to introduce yogurt since I have both the mangoes and cows that produce milk for my family. I will be able to get the required capital through the table banking initiative available in our group.”

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Kiraitu Murungi, Governor Meru County inspects the fruit processing technology and is briefed by Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology (JKUAT) engineers led by professor David Sila. Photo: UN Women/ Faith Bwibo

“Table banking” refers to a group funding strategy commonly used by small savings and loans groups, where the group contributes their savings to a common pool of funds, which can then be used to give out small loans to fund specific projects.

“Kenya has a significant proportion of women engaged in agriculture. While they work as hard as any male farmer, they often lack access to financial and technological resources that can improve their livelihoods. This is why UN Women has partnered with the universities to make technology accessible for women farmers,” said Fatmata Sessay, UN Women Regional Policy Advisor on Climate Smart Agriculture.

As Kenya’s mango production continues to grow, access to existing and new technology is critical to maintain and improve productivity. UN Women is fostering collaboration with universities, research institutions and private sector partners in Kenya to make sure that women farmers are not left behind as the technologies evolve.