Kitui County is located in Eastern Kenya, in an arid and semi-arid region. The County faces challenges of low crop production mainly due to: low and unreliable rainfall which is about 500 mm per annum; high temperatures of between 18°C - 32°C; and poor soils which are primarily sandy and acidic in nature. These challenges lead to food insecurity, low income, and malnutrition for many small holder farm families within the County. To address some of these constraints, mango fruit tree has been identified as a viable alternative to crop growing and livestock keeping. Although mango growing is not new to Kitui County, the key challenge to mango farming is low production of high quality fruits in quantities that can meet household demand, as well as local and export markets. Introduction of improved mango farming in Kitui County in the year 2000 has proved to be a viable enterprise.
The objectives of growing improved mango on-farm are to:
- Enhance farmers income;
- Contribute to food security; and
- Improve nutrition status of farmers.
Improved mango growing on farms was introduced to farmers in Kitui County after undertaking a farmers’ technology preference research survey by Kenya Forestry Research Institute (KEFRI) in 1999. The survey identified mango growing as a priority technology for promotion. Following the survey, adaptability of various improved mango varieties was tested at different sites on farms within the County. Seven mango varieties namely; Apple, Ngowe, Haden, Kent, Sabine, Tommy Atkins and Van Dyke were selected and introduced to farmers.
Recommended mango seedling spacing of 5 m x 5 m was initially used by farmers. However, due to fast growth and heavy branching of the improved mango trees, the tree canopy soon closed and overlapped, resulting to low fruit yields. The close spacing of mango trees also posed high competition for light, water and nutrients among trees. Farmers continued to increase the spacing for subsequent mango planting to 7 m x 7 m, 9 m x 9 m and plan to increase further to 10 m x 10 m in order to improve fruit yields.
To establish an on-farm mango plantation, the land should be completely ploughed. The mango trees should be planted in micro-catchments to enhance rain water harvesting. The area between the mango trees rows can be used for growing short rotation agricultural crops such as maize, beans and peas to enhance land productivity and diversify crop production in a given land unit. The mango trees should be maintained through weeding, pruning, repair of micro-catchments, and spraying to control pests and diseases, through application of Integrated Pest Management (IPM) techniques. Pruning is carried out to ensure that branches are widely spaced to allow penetration of sunlight to the whole tree. The tree canopy should there be funnel shaped. Trees should be retained at reasonable heights for ease of spraying and fruit harvesting. As improved mango trees produce many fruits per season, branches with very many fruits should be supported with sticks to avoid branch breakage.
|Improved mango orchard on a farm in Kitui County
||A mango tree with open branches creating a funnel shaped canopy
||A farmer showing the correct size of a mango scion (pencil size)
Growing of improved mango has increased farmers income through sale of mango fruits. For instance, a farmer with 500 mango trees can earn about Ksh 375,000 (3,640 US$) per season. A mango tree can produce approximately 400 fruits per season. Health status of farmers has also improved due to improved nutrition. In addition, tree cover on-farm has increased considerably thus improving farm micro-climate and acting as wind breaks.
Innovations and Success Factors
The improved mango growing technology has been widely adopted by many farmers within Kitui County. However, for improved mango tree growing to be widely adopted, there is need to intensify information dissemination through various strategies such as: farmer-to-farmer knowledge sharing; field site visits to mango orchards; establishment of learning sites such demonstration plots; learning through farmer field schools; and holding field days and training courses for farmers.
Some of the innovative modifications applied to the mango growing technology include: increased tree spacing from 5 m x 5 m to the projected 10 m x 10 m spacing to allow for increased canopy size and fruit yields; application of top-working grafting technique to improve survival rate of grafts, instead of the initially introduced root-stock grafting; growing two mango varieties namely; apple and kent due to market preference, instead of the initially introduced 7 varieties; and use of sabine mango variety as a root stock instead of the local mango variety to enhance seedlings survival in the field during dry season as sabine variety has a deep root system.
Some of the constrains experienced by the farmers include;
- Low prices of mango fruits as marketing is carried out through middle men who offer low farm-gate prices, and the market is mostly flooded as mango fruits ripen at the same time.
- Low technological and human capacity of mango fruit value addition to make other products such as juices.
- Pest and disease management.
However, some of these challenges can be addressed through; experiences in marketing and good public relations to negotiate for better prices, and application of Integrated Pest Management (IPM) techniques instead of synthetic pesticides.
Some lessons learnt include;
- Technology users require technical know-how on establishment and management techniques to sustain the practice and reduce costs. Mango growers may acquire knowledge from advisory services and training to build capacity to address emerging needs and challenges
- A farmer will modify a technology to maximize productivity
Growing of improved mango is a viable enterprise and has great potential to improve farmers income, nutrition and food security. The practice has been widely adopted within Kitui County.
Compiled by: Reuben Shanda, Charles Ndege, Samuel Auka, Abdalla Kisiwa, Nixon Kilimo, Joan Kariuki, Mariam Karanja and Paul Tuwei
The authors acknowledge Mr. Joseph Kivelenge of Mbitini, Kitui County for providing information on mango growing which enabled the compilation of this manuscript.