The government through the Ministry of Industrialization, Trade and Enterprise Development has announced plans to unveil the stalled Roret pineapple processing plant in Bureti sub-county, Kericho in a bid to help the fruit farmers in the region earn more income from the cash crop through value addition.
This comes at a time when pineapple farmers are recording low returns from the sale of the fruits following a directive by the county government to suspend operations at all open air markets in the county as a measure to contain the spread of the deadly corona virus. To make the matter worse, many of their customers are opting not to travel to purchase the fruit from the farms for fear of contracting the deadly virus.
The pineapple processing plant located three kilometers from Roret Trading center was initiated eleven years ago but has been dormant since then. But currently efforts are being made to finish the installation of the machines and get the plant running by end of November.
The plant will process and can the pineapples for sale to the local markets.
Speaking to the press shortly after an assessment tour of the fruit factory Friday, Permanent Secretary (PS) at the State Department for Industrialization Trade and Enterprise Development Dr Francis Owino said both the national and county governments will work together to ensure the project is completed.
“There has been too much talk about this pineapple processing factory but now both the national and county governments will collaborate and have promised to have it completed and running. There is need for speed in terms of the implementation process. There is need for collaboration between the national and the county governments to see that the area pineapple farmers add value to their produce and have better income,” said PS Owino.
He reiterated that it was imperative for the pineapple farmers in the region to organize into cooperatives for purposes of pooling productivity in a bid to develop and enhance production as well as commercialize to the cash crop.
“From the discussions we have heard with the county commissioner, we have agreed that in one months’ time cooperatives will be formed in partnership with the county government to identify neighboring pineapple growing counties in a bid to identify the acreage under pineapples, the number of farmers growing the fruit and set days when a respective cooperative group will bring their produce to the plant. All this will develop and streamline the production process as well as add value to the fruit,” added the PS.
Present during the visit was Kenya Industrial Research and Development Institute (KIRDI) Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Professor David Tuigong who pledged to realize the production of the first batch of canned pineapples to the local market by end of November this year.
Echoing the same sentiments was the county chief officer (CO) in charge of Trade and Industrialization Victor Langat who noted the county government of Kericho was committed to fast tracking and reviving the stalled pineapple processing plant to allow the fruit farmers start processing their produce.
The chairman of Roret pineapple plant Robert Rono who is also a pineapple farmer said over 1,860 hectares in the area are under pineapples with at least10, 000 farmers in the constituency growing the cash crop and exuded confidence that the plant will now be revived to cushion farmers not only during the Covid-19 pandemic but also restore their livelihoods.
“Commitment is key and I am hopeful the plant will now be up and running. The over 10,000 pineapple farmers in this area are frustrated by the delay in having the pineapple plant operational since 2009. They are losing millions of shillings due to poor sales that they earn from the produce because of a limited market and its perishability. We heavily rely on middle men who come with pickups or lorries to purchase our produce from our farms at throw away prices of shillings 30 per piece of a ripe pineapple.
At times the price comes down to as little as Sh 10 per piece while at times the buyers do not come at all. If the factory was up and running it would have gone to cushion pineapple farmers in the area during this Covid-19 pandemic,” said Rono.
The former district education officer who, in 2004 had 15 acres of pineapples but has since reduced the acreage to three said the commencement of operations at the pineapple processing plant will go a long way in addressing the plight of the fruit farmers who have long been selling their produce at throw away prices.
Present during the assessment tour was Kericho county commissioner John Kamau, Bureti sub-county deputy commissioner Mrs. Alfet Jillo, and KIRDI food technologist William Mutuiri among other invited guests.
By Sarah Njagi