In the heart of Kenya’s arid and semi-arid lands (ASAL), where the scorching sun paints the landscape, an inspiring story of transformation is unfolding. Meet Simon Musyoka, a small-scale farmer from Kitui County, who has turned the challenges of ASAL farming into an opportunity, all thanks to the sweet embrace of mangoes and innovative thinking. This is the story of how Simon’s journey into mango value addition has not only sweetened his fortunes but also created a thriving local business, SunSweet Fruit Farm Products.
Mangoes in the Desert:
Kitui County, located in Eastern Kenya, is a part of the 80% of the country’s land classified as arid and semi-arid. Here, high temperatures ranging from 14°C to 34°C are the norm. In such a challenging environment, traditional farming faces significant hurdles. However, Simon Musyoka saw potential where others saw limitations.
Simon, who once operated a general shop while cultivating mangoes on his one-acre farm in Ithiani Village, faced a recurring problem. Despite good harvests, the surplus mangoes often went to waste, or he had to sell them at rock-bottom prices to brokers from Nairobi. It was a situation that demanded a change.
A Tasty Epiphany:
In 2018, Simon’s life took an unexpected turn when a friend from Thailand, involved in chocolate manufacturing, suggested a new business idea. While chocolate processing seemed enticing, Simon pondered the availability of raw materials for such an endeavor. Mango crisps, he thought, were a tasty and healthy alternative that could be sold year-round, especially given the abundance of mangoes in Eastern Kenya.
Moreover, the transition to mango crisps offered a compelling prospect. It promised a ready market for his own mangoes and those of fellow farmers in the region, addressing the issue of wastage.
Simon’s journey into mango crisps production was intertwined with an innovative approach—polytunnel solar dryers. Polyhouses, an innovative technology for drying produce, are widely used in temperate countries but less popular in Kenya.
A polytunnel, typically semi-circular or elongated in shape, is constructed from steel and covered with polyethylene. It is elevated on a wooden platform with gaps to allow free air circulation. The mango chips are laid out on shed nets on this platform for drying.
Due to limited technical expertise in constructing polytunnels, Simon enlisted the services of an expert from the Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology (JKUAT), investing Ksh230,000 for materials and labor. However, the initial attempts at mango crisps production ended in disappointment, as all the crisps spoiled and had to be discarded.
Recognizing the need for change, Simon hired another technician from Nairobi, investing Ksh700,000 for materials for two new polytunnels and Ksh150,000 for labor.
Sweet Success and Beyond:
The second time around, the addition of two more polytunnels proved to be a game-changer. In January 2020, Simon processed 15 tonnes of mangoes, yielding 5 tonnes of high-quality mango crisps. This marked a turning point in his entrepreneurial journey.
Notably, Simon managed to secure a buyer for the mango crisps, an exporter based in Salt Lake City, USA. From the five tonnes, he earned a remarkable Ksh1 million. This success propelled him to increase his mango processing capacity to a staggering 82 tonnes, sourcing mangoes from farmers in Kitui and Machakos, in addition to his own two-acre plot.
Mango Love: A Brand with Heart:
The mango crisps are now packaged and branded as “Mango Love,” fetching a local price not less than Ksh100 for a 5g packet, and up to Ksh2000 in the US market.
Simon’s innovative spirit doesn’t stop at mango crisps. He has diversified into producing mango juice, jam, and even lip balm crafted from mango seeds. The 450g jam is sold at Ksh200, while 500ml and 250ml juice are available at Ksh100 and Ksh50, respectively. His lip balm, enriched with mango kernel butter, is effective in keeping lips nourished and soft.
This entrepreneurial journey has not only sweetened Simon’s own fortune but also the lives of others. SunSweet Fruit Farm Products has created employment opportunities for six women and youth, a number that can swell to 16-20 during the peak season.
Simon has become a master of mango value addition and now offers consultancy services in polytunnel installation and various product processing. His journey is a testament to the transformative power of innovation, resilience, and believing in the potential of one’s environment.
Simon Musyoka’s journey from a small ASAL farmer to a thriving agri-entrepreneur is a remarkable tale of turning adversity into opportunity. His success with mango value addition not only showcases the untapped potential of ASAL regions but also demonstrates the profound impact of innovation and determination.
Simon’s story underscores the importance of embracing new technologies and approaches in agriculture. Beyond personal success, his venture, SunSweet Fruit Farm Products, stands as a beacon of hope for others, creating employment, strengthening local economies, and offering products that are not only delicious but also made with heart.
As we savor the sweetness of Mango Love, Simon’s journey reminds us that, with the right blend of innovation and resilience, the most challenging environments can yield the most delectable fruits of success.
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