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Kenya farmers embracing low cost charcoal
cooler to reduce current post-harvest losses

by Ejidiah Wangui NAIRIOBI (Xinhua) -- In 2012, Douglas Kimemia resigned from his teaching profession in Kenya’s eastern county of Kitui following persistent knee pains.

With his 200,000 shillings (about 2,000 U.S. dollars) final dues, Kimemia ventured into citrus farming.

Having been born and brought up in the region, he knew too well he could either fail or succeed as this is a semi-arid region where many crops do not fare well.

With the little experience he had with figures as a mathematics teacher, he made his projections and settled on citrus trees which, despite the fact that they could take longer than other crops to start yielding, they would earn him much more for longer but only if he did right.

Seven years since venturing into farming, Kimemia has built an empire where even research institutions troop in for lessons. His biggest secret has been grafting his seedlings for a superior quality.

His journey has been replete with lessons.

There were times he felt like he was groping in the dark as not many people were growing fruits in his locality.

His biggest challenge came in three years after when he harvested his first fruits.

He had a bumper harvest but nowhere to sell, he also didn’t have a proper storage facility.

"I harvested more than I had anticipated.

"I could sometimes give out the fruits to my neighbors to feed on their animals," said Kimemia.

His story reinforces that of many other Kenyan farmers who have little capacity and knowledge to store or market their produce after harvesting.

In 2017, things changed for Kimemia - he received a charcoal cooler from the Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology, a research institution that prides itself in coming up with low cost innovations for small scale farmers.

The charcoal cooler lifted off the storage weight off Kimemia’s chest.

Now, instead of selling his fruits at low prices after harvesting, he is able to store them longer and sell when prices are favorable.

"From selling a kilogram of citrus at 0.19 dollars, I can now sell the same quantity at one dollar as I am able to decide when to sell and not the other way round.

"No cost goes into operating the cooler which is an added advantage to me.

"I am now looking into expanding my farming venture as my storage headache has been taken care of," said Kimemia.

An estimated 45 percent of mango and citrus fruits in the region is lost during post-harvest handling due to lack of access to storage facilities during the peak harvest season.

Farmers are often forced to sell their fruits at a throwaway price due to fear of spoilage.

With the charcoal cooler, farmers like Kimemia are able to make right timings on when to sell the fruits which translates into better incomes.

Daniel Sila, the researcher behind the charcoal cooler, said that through this innovation, farmers like Kimemia have also been able to reduce post-harvest losses.

"We have managed to deal with almost 90 percent of these losses through proper storage.

"We have been trying to replicate this innovation in other parts of the country and so far so good," said Sila.


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