NZIU, Kenya, Feb 21 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - It is a
hot and cloudless morning, a sign that it will be sunny right
through the afternoon. Joseph Mailu moves along rows of fruiting
mango trees with a long pole in his hand, harvesting the mature
The succulent green mangoes drop inside a net tied to the
tip of the pole which prevents them from falling on the ground
and being damaged.
The quality of the fruit is a big concern to farmers and
traders hoping to sell to the lucrative export market.
But now farmers in Nziu are benefitting from two innovations
– solar-powered cold storage, and biological pest control – to
help protect their harvest against the effects of climate
Even with the careful skills of professional harvesters like
31-year-old Mailu, efforts to access high-end markets used to be
difficult for many farmers in Nziu, a village in Makueni
Country, some 250 km (150 miles) from Kenya’s capital, Nairobi.
But the new cold storage facility, which preserves the
farmers' highly perishable fruit and stops it from going rotten
before it reaches consumers’ tables, is making things easier.
The state Department of Agriculture estimates that 30-50
percent of harvested fruit in Kenya goes to waste due to poor
The majority of Kenya’s smallholder farmers lack proper cold
storage to preserve the quality or extend the shelf-life of
their fruit, leaving them at the mercy of middlemen who buy
their produce and earn most of the profit.
With low-cost cold storage, however, about 150 of Nziu’s
farmers now can keep their harvest refrigerated while they scout
for prospective buyers.
The refrigerator, the first of its kind in Kenya, was built
in late 2015 by the Rockefeller Foundation and TechnoServe, a
nongovernmental organisation, under the YieldWise programme, an
initiative aimed at cutting post-harvest losses among local
The facility is fitted with four solar panels, an inverter
and a car battery which enables it to store power to keep
running during the night hours.
Makueni County is semi-arid and hot, especially during the
mango harvesting season in January and February, but the cold
storage room can reduce the ambient temperature from 35 degrees
Celsius to as low as 17 degrees, which slows the ripening of the
mangoes by several days.
John Musomba, a farmer in charge of the refrigerated
storehouse, said it can store up to 3.4 tonnes of mangoes.
ORGANIC PEST CONTROL
But mango growers have to contend not only with the heat,
but also with pests that can ruin their crops.
Bactrocera dorsalis, a species of fruit fly originating in
Asia, has become a huge problem in Africa as a result of the
warming effects of climate change.
The flies are a menace to many mango growers in the region,
destroying more than 60 percent of farm fruits and leading to an
annual loss of up to $2 billion to farmers across the continent,
Musomba, who has 2 acres (0.8 hectares) of mango trees, uses
several biological control measures to control the flies.
“In the past we sprayed chemical pesticides to control the
flies, but buyers turned down our produce due to high chemical
residues. But since we switched to organic farming, traders are
now trooping around here for our fruits,” he said.
Countries like the United States ban horticultural produce
from African countries where invasions of the B. dorsalis fruit
fly have been reported, said Ivan Rwomushana, who leads
the fruit fly integrated pest management programme at the
International Centre of Insect Physiology and Entomology (ICIPE)
Rwomushana says ICIPE is training farmers in several
biological methods to control fruit flies, including pheromone
traps to capture and kill male fruit flies, and parasitic wasps.
Sunday Ekesi, interim director of research and partnership
at ICIPE, said the organisation is also developing a treatment
that involves immersing mangoes in warm water for 45 minutes to
kill any fruit flies on the fruit surface.
Mamadou Biteye, Africa regional managing director for the
Rockefeller Foundation, argues the Kenyan government should
develop policies to support wider use of such interventions.
“Farmers don’t make any profit if they lose half of their
harvest at the farm level, therefore such policies which
facilitate access to finance and technology for farmers are very
critical,” Biteye said.
The foundation is investing $130 million over the next five
years to support post-harvest management initiatives.
The farmers in Nziu know how valuable that could prove.
“With the organic control interventions in addition to the
cold storage facility, I now harvest and sell 250 tonnes of
mango fruits in a year,” Musomba said – more than twice the 100
tonnes he harvested two years ago when these tools were not
Musomba says that the farmers in the collective who use the
cold storage facility can sell their mangoes for 20 Kenyan
shillings ($0.20) a kilo, far more than the 2 shillings per
mango that they used to get when selling hastily to brokers
before the fruit could rot.
(Reporting by Leopold Obi; editing by James Baer and Laurie
Goering :; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the
charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian
news, climate change, resilience, women's rights, trafficking
and property rights. Visit news.trust.org/climate)