Mango processing can create thousands of jobs for the youth in Kenya, potentially reducing the country’s youth unemployment rate of 7.27 percent (ILO, 2020). This statement is consistent with the findings of a study by the Centre for African Bio-Entrepreneurship (CABE) under the auspices of Utafiti Sera House III on Youth Employment Creation in Agribusiness and Agro-processing in Kenya. The urgent need for job opportunities along the mango value chain is timely in view of changing demographics and the increased number of Kenya’s health-conscious middle class.
The study, funded by the Partnership for African Social and Governance Research (PASGR), found that there are rising lifestyle changes in diet choices, demand for quality products, entertainment, eating, and spending habits.
Such changes can be seen for instance, in different urban and peri-urban eateries, supermarket shelves, and food markets which increasingly sell natural and processed juices. These lifestyle changes are projected to continue to drive the average growth in domestic demand for juice which the International Trade Centre reports (ITC, 2014) to be 49 percent per annum.
Demand for quality juice
To effectively meet this increased demand for juice, Kenya imports U$5,395,000 worth of mango pulp annually, further threatening to stagnate the domestic mango industry. If the industry is to meet the demand for quality juice, there is need to trace quality back to the very bottom of the mango value chain – the farmers. A farmer can only produce quality fruits by planting quality varieties using and recommended agronomic practices. Once the variety and quality of mango seedling is right, there is need to use appropriate processing technology, but this also faces various challenges which need to be addressed.
The major stumbling blocks
The study, conducted between December 2017 and 2020 confirmed ITC’s statement that ‘’… [O]ver a long time, the Country [Kenya] has relied on the traditional fresh market domestically and internationally with little attention given to processed products.’’ Production and marketing of mangoes also face various challenges such as use of poor-quality planting material and production practices, weak agricultural extension, high post-harvest losses, weak linkages with industry policies, marketing deficiencies and lack of finance. Cumulatively, these challenges lead to inadequate quality and quantity of mangoes for processing, forcing Kenya to import mango pulp for processing mango juice. This not only contributes to unemployment in the mango value chain but also leads to loss of national income which could otherwise be channeled to the development agenda of the mango sector and beyond.
Based on findings of Focus Group Discussions (FGDs) with the youth in Makueni and West Pokot Counties, the study revealed that there are job opportunities for the youth in an integrated services provision comprising of tree seedlings, extension, mango orchard expansion (new trees), augmentation (grafting varieties) and gradually replacing old orchards of table or fresh mango varieties with varieties suitable for processing as good starting point in dealing with these challenges. In addition, the study confirmed that mango processing offers a solution to the high post-harvest losses experienced in the main production areas, provides a market for the second-grade fruits and can potentially drive the much-needed reforms in the value chain.
Why mango processing?
Processing will increase availability and consumption of locally-produced mango juice, reduce post-harvest losses, increase efficiency in the value chain and employ the youth in input supply, spraying, packing, aggregating and marketing.
The ensuing effective and efficient mango value chain will strengthen linkages between farmers and processors. As a result, farmers will benefit from price incentives, market and product diversification. In addition, most farmersin Kenya already recognize that ‘Ngowe’ mango variety is suitable for processing. As a result, cultivation of this variety offers potential for Kenya to undergo import substitution and source locally the required amount of mango juice. The subsequent benefits such as high quality and safety standardswill increase thescale and quality of mangoes produced. This could also create export opportunity for Kenya in regional markets such as Sudan, which currently imports mango juice from India (ITC, 2014)
What do we stand to lose if we do not process mangoes?
The magnitude of this question can be felt more now that we are in the peak of May-August mango season. During such seasons, markets across the country experience surplus in supply of mangoes which come with prices as low as less than Ksh 10 per fruit. In addition, most farmers suffer high post-harvest losses since mangoes are highly perishable. On a bigger scale, the opportunity cost of foreign exchange earnings spent on mango imports for juicing is U$ 5,395,000 per annum. It is projected that effective and efficient mango value chain will create 3, 200,000 jobs per year.
Ultimately, processing will increase domestic demand for ‘Ngowe’ mango varieties. Increased demand, will increase the prices of the fruit and consequently increase income for farmers who will in turn seek quality mango varieties. The spill-over of activities will work to streamline the entire value chain by strengthening extension service delivery in terms of personnel, messaging coordination in the production, processing and marketing activities. This calls for a need to strengthen linkages with industrial policies (agro-processing), improve markets of fresh and processed mangoes including investments in establishing aggregation, cold storage and transport infrastructure as well as improving access to finance for youth entrepreneurs to create jobs for themselves and others along the different segments of the mango value chain in the country.