Avoiding hunger gaps with fruit tree portfolios in Kenya

Waterberry (Syzygium cuminii), a nutritious indigenous tree fruit. Photo by Katja Kehlenbeck/ICRAF

Waterberry (Syzygium cuminii), a nutritious indigenous tree fruit. Photo by Katja Kehlenbeck/ICRAF

Growing just six fruit tree species on farms in Machakos, Kenya could supply vitamin-rich fruits to farming families for the whole year.

Many farming households in Eastern Kenya suffer from ‘hunger periods’, when food is very scarce, and from ‘hidden hunger’, when micronutrient-rich food such as fruits and vegetables are not available. Researchers have found that planting a carefully selected ‘portfolio’ of easily grown fruit tree species will provide fresh, nutritious fruit to farmer families throughout the year.

“We found that existing fruit tree diversity can be arranged in ‘fruit tree portfolios’ to be planted on each farm for a year-round supply of fresh fruits,” said Katja Kehlenbeck of the Tree Diversity, Domestication and Delivery Science Domain of the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF), based in Nairobi, Kenya.

Kehlenbeck was reporting the findings of a research team she was leading at the 2nd Hidden Hunger Conference in Stuttgart, Germany, 3-6 March 2015. The poster she presented in addition to her oral presentation won 2nd prize in the poster competition at the Conference.

Fruit and nuts, with their high content of vitamins, minerals and other nutrients, can address the lack of essential vitamins and minerals, such as vitamin A, iron, zinc and calcium, micronutrients which are required in small amounts by the body for proper growth and development. They bring variety and colour into starch-based diets. And they can contribute to income generation for local communities.

“Currently, fruit consumption in Eastern Africa is far below the recommended daily amount of 400 g of fruits and vegetables per person and day,” said Gudrun Keding of the Nutrition and Marketing Diversity Programme of Bioversity International, referring to an associated study on hidden hunger that she, Kehlenbeck and Stepha McMullin of ICRAF’s Tree Diversity, Domestication and Delivery program ran in another part of Kenya. Only about 25% of the 340 women interviewed for Keding’s study consumed a fruit the day before the interview and the mean amount of fruit eaten was only about 50 g per respondent. The poster Keding et al. presented on their results during the Hidden Hunger Conference won 1st prize.

Gudrun B. Keding (L) and Katja Kehlenbeck with Best Poster awards

Gudrun B. Keding (L) and Katja Kehlenbeck with Best Poster awards

She said, “While we still don’t know enough about the patterns and determinants of fruit production, consumption and marketing, it is clear from our study that all household members would like to eat more fruits; this should be seen as an incentive to increase fruit production in Western Kenya.”

“Fruit trees can provide year round products for consumption and sale, if sets of species with different harvest times are cultivated on farms,” said Kehlenbeck. “We were especially looking for ‘fruit tree portfolios’ that can deliver fruits rich in vitamin C and provitamin A all year round,” she added.

For the European Commission/IFAD-funded study in Machakos County in Eastern Kenya, 300 households were selected for a baseline survey of fruit production and consumption in different ecological zones. Hunger periods were worked out with the farmers, and focus group discussions identified the harvest times of important fruit species. Harvest calendars and nutritional information showed the best combination of species for year-round fruit supply.

Farm sizes in the area studied averaged 1.4 ha, with 5 family members per household. 52 different fruit tree species were identified, half of them indigenous to the region. Mango occurred most frequently, followed by pawpaw and avocado. Households were most at risk of having no food between August and December, with a peak in October.

Farm with pawpaw and mango trees in Machakos County, Eastern Kenya. Photo by Ken Njogu/ICRAF

Farm with pawpaw and mango trees in Machakos County, Eastern Kenya. Photo by Ken Njogu/ICRAF

It was concluded that a combination of 13 different species could provide a year-round harvest of fresh fruits in the Machakos area and should be cultivated on each farm. These were pawpaw, mango, loquat, mulberry, waterberry, custard apple, guava, white sapote, lemon, orange, chocolate berry, passion fruit and desert date. However, for small farms just three species in particular could provide a year-round supply of vitamin C: pawpaw, oranges, lemons, and the wild fruit desert date. Three more species, namely pawpaw, and the wild fruits waterberry and chocolate berry could provide year-round provitamin A.

“Based on these results, indigenous wild fruit species need to be promoted for cultivation, and good planting material (seeds and seedlings) made available to farmers,” said Kehlenbeck. “We will also look into applying our methods and findings to other areas, in order to to improve nutrition and combat hidden hunger.”


The Machakos research was funded by a grant to ICRAF from the European Commission and IFAD under the project ‘Fruiting Africa.’

The Western Kenya research was conducted under the auspices of the CGIAR Research Program Agriculture for Nutrition and Health (A4NH).

Download posters:

Can cultivation of ‘fruit tree portfolios’ contribute to farmer families’ year-round vitamin supply? Evidence from Eastern Kenya By Katja Kehlenbeck, Stepha McMullin, Ken Njogu, Parveen Anjarwalla, Esther Karanja-Kamau, Ramni Jamnadass

Fruit consumption and production: habits, preferences and attitudes of rural households in Western Kenya. By Gudrun B. Keding, Katja Kehlenbeck and Stepha McMullin

For more information visit:
ICRAF’s Tree Diversity, Domestication and Delivery program

http://www.bioversityinternational.org/news/detail/putting-agricultural-biodiversity-back-on-the-nutrition-agenda/ and


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Paul Stapleton

Paul Stapleton is the Head of Communications at the World Agroforestry Centre.

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