The lemon fruit has been popular for as many years as I can remember. When I was younger, I understood it as a fruit supposed to be added to porridge to make it sour and enhance the taste. My neighbour used to tell me that the fruit was only meant for the old. “They need them due to many health complications at an advanced age.” He would say.
However, as I came of age, I realized that lemons are amongst the most consumed fruits I have ever encountered. Lemons may be too acidic to eat on their own. However, the fruit has a way of adding zest to just about all savoury dishes. When I visit friends, go to parties, or attend different events, almost every dessert is usually flavoured with lemon.
During the pandemic period, the World Health Organisation (WHO) recommended the fruit as one of the remedies to fight Covid-19 mild infections by killing the virus. Farmers begun making a killing out of the crop. Lemon prices shot upwards. A fruit that would normally cost Kshs 5 apiece, now scaled upwards to Kshs 15-20 each. It was at this point that I decided to find out more about this gold mine.
By the look of things, the Coronavirus is not going anywhere. We now have what is termed a third-wave that has been said to be most deadly going by the number of people who have succumbed to it worldwide. As a farmer, a business-minded person, I am forced to always think of a way to maximize every opportunity I get. I researched more about the fruit. The results are what I term, interesting.
Lemons grow where other citrus trees find it hard to grow, and yes, they grow even faster than the citrus itself. A lemon tree will begin producing fruit by the third year and will be fully productive in eight years. Apart from lower heat requirements compared to other fruits like sweet oranges and grapefruits, they thrive in cool and dry regions.
Like in Kenya, major farming areas of lemons are at the Coast, Eastern, and Rift Valley regions. There is high potential in Nyanza and North-Eastern. The few farmers who are trying to cultivate are hitting it right. However, the crop does less impressive in humid regions.
When farming, there is need to lightly prune the tree to allow more light reach every bit of the tree. A lemon tree that is lightly-pruned produces more fruit than a tree that goes unpruned or a tree that is heavily-pruned.
The enterprenuer in me was also curious and interested in value addition for lemon fruits, should plan-A fail. I discovered that the pulp is used as livestock feeds, its peels are used to make vinegar, lactic acid, citric acid, and feed yeast. The rind oil which comes out from the peel is normally very valuable in the international market. Additionally, its leaves and bark are known widely to have medicinal value.
On an acre, a farmer can have at least 130 trees of lemon to produce a harvest of 4-5 tonnes. Each tree can produce 100kgs during peak production which can be sold for over Kshs 4,000 depending on the market force and the region.
With more emphasis on value addition, and with the establishment of more fruit juice companies in Kenya, there is a greater chance for more earnings from citrus plantations. This is a worthwhile venture to consider as it has long term benefits.