Faith Mumo’s orchard in Makueni County defies the seasonal limitations of mango production, as her trees bear fruit even after the mango season has ended. Through her innovative mango crisps business, Mumo utilizes aggressive rainwater harvesting techniques to sustain her factory’s operations and cater to the export market. Recently, her orchard and factory were showcased during the first national mango conference held in Wote Town, attracting the attention of mango farmers, traders, and enthusiasts.
Mumo, a 26-year-old entrepreneur, shared her success story with visitors as she guided them through the factory, nestled in a corner of her homestead. Dividing the orchard into two sections, she explained that one part relies on rainfall, while the other is irrigated. The use of irrigation has significantly increased mango production, allowing for a consistent supply of fruits throughout the year.
Recognizing the climate-smart nature of Mumo’s mango enterprise, the organizers of the mango expo chose her farm as a prime example. Spanning 20 acres, the orchard boasts 970 mature mango trees and several fish ponds integrated into the compound. Rainwater collected from a vast rock catchment system, channeled into a large farm pond, supports the orchard’s water needs. The fish ponds, stocked with catfish at various growth stages, contribute to the farm’s overall sustainability.
Mumo disclosed her techniques for managing mango trees’ flowering and growth patterns, which directly impact fruit production. By watering the trees before the rainy season, they become bushy, leading to enhanced flowering. During the rainy season, Mumo strategically stresses the trees by plucking down the flowers. After the rains subside, she irrigates the trees to encourage further flowering. This combined approach ensures a continuous supply of fruits and crisps.
During the Makueni mango expo, experts identified seasonality as a significant challenge in maximizing the value chain of mangoes. They advised farmers to cultivate late-maturing varieties and invest in cold storage facilities. Joshua Marube, an agriculture official from Meru County, praised Mumo’s approach, stating that it offers a practical solution to expand mango production, especially in drought-prone areas.
Professor Josephat Kimatu from South Eastern Kenya University explained that irrigation can trigger off-season fruiting in certain fruits, allowing mango trees to recuperate more quickly if they perceive sufficient resources for flowering and growth. These practices align with good agricultural practices and reinforce the benefits of irrigation.
While Mumo’s educational background lies in fish farming management, she considers herself an industrialist driven by her experiences growing up in a rural farming community where mango is a vital cash crop. Her exposure to post-harvest losses among her relatives and neighbors motivated her to address this issue. After graduating and completing an internship at the Department of Agriculture in Makueni County, she embarked on her entrepreneurial journey.
Mango farmers in Makueni County face significant challenges, losing 40% of their harvest due to pests and a lack of market access, according to the Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Service (Kephis). To combat this problem, Kephis partnered with USAID to establish pest-free zones in Makueni. Additionally, the county government set up a mango processing factory, but it only absorbs a fraction of the available fruits. This gap inspired innovative entrepreneurs like Mumo to seize opportunities in the market.
Using her delayed intern stipend as capital, Mumo imported a boiler from India, which she has since paid off. The boiler efficiently uses firewood and maize cobs for the production of mango crisps. Fresh fruits collected from her orchard and selected farms across the county are ripened, cleaned, and sliced in a sterile environment before being dried using specialized machinery for six hours. The resulting mango crisps are packaged and exported to countries such as Italy, the Netherlands, and South Africa, commanding an average price of Sh1,000 per kilo.
Mumo’s success story is not just about her personal achievements but also about reducing post-harvest losses among mango farmers. Through her enterprise, she has created 15 job opportunities, primarily employing women. Processing 2 tonnes of mangoes per day requires a team of 14 workers operating in two shifts. However, Mumo believes her enterprise has the potential for greater impact, especially considering the concurrent mango harvesting in the region due to dependence on rainfall for orchard maintenance.
Mumo places her bets on the ambitious “water marshal plan” initiated by the county government. This plan aims to promote off-season fruit production, specifically targeting mangoes and pixie fruits, which thrive in the semi-arid region. The plan involves expanding irrigation of orchards, with the launch scheduled for July. David Makau, Makueni Water Chief Officer, explains that fruit tree irrigation is more profitable than vegetable irrigation, justifying the expansion of irrigated lands and the establishment of large dams to supplement water sources. Moreover, the plan focuses on delivering water directly to households, enabling farmers to irrigate their orchards effectively.
As Mumo looks back at her achievements, she takes pride in alleviating the pain of post-harvest losses among mango farmers. Her dedication has not only provided economic opportunities but has also made a significant contribution to the local community. With her sights set on the future, she aims to further expand her enterprise and introduce mango crisps to the local market, fostering the growth and development of the mango industry in Makueni County.