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Corona-crisis creates boom for Kenyan orange growers

The red soil of the semi-arid Kathonzweni area in Kenya’s Makueni County appears barren, but at Joseph Muthama’s Sweet Waters Farm, hundreds of orange trees are flourishing, sagging under the heavy weight of the fruits.

It is the orange season in Ukambani and other parts of the country like Embu and Muthama, like many other farmers, is currently a very busy man, harvesting and selling the produce despite the Covid-19 gloom.

Before the pandemic, most of the fruits consumed in Kenya would be brought in bulk from Morogoro and Tanga in Tanzania, leading to a glut in the market. However, restrictions imposed by the government on truck drivers at border points, which include mandatory Covid-19 testing, have slowed down food imports, translating into a boon for local producers amid an increase in consumption of the fruits by consumers to keep away common cold and boost their health.

“Most of the buyers visiting farms for the fruits are from outside this region,” says Muthama, noting that the classification of food producers, traders and transporters as essential service providers during the Covid-19 pandemic has enabled business to thrive.

“Business has never been this good. I am receiving more customers than I expected. The Covid-19 pandemic is actually a blessing in disguise,” adds the former science and mathematics teacher at Ilumani Primary School in Kathonzweni.

In 2019, Muthama harvested 52.5 tonnes of oranges with each going at Sh80,000. This year, he has already surpassed the tonnage as demand remains high.

“I spend about Sh800,000 in a year to maintain the farm by spraying, irrigating and pruning the trees but the fruits bring in more making it a good business,” he says. “I start harvesting in December and do it for up to five months but the peak is usually from April to May.”

[ Sh100 = €0,83 ]

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