It is a goldmine waiting to be exploited. Yet one does not need to look too far or prospect so hard to find it. Even though the onion has played second fiddle to traditionally cultivated crops in the country, it might just be the next big thing in Kenya’s horticulture.
And in a manner of speaking, become the answer needed by the Kenyan farmer to lift himself out of poverty.
Its commercial potential is simply enormous, according to experts well versed in the art and science of onion cultivation in the country. They say that onions have a high profit margin compared to other crops traditionally grown in the country, even though the Kenyan farmer is yet to find this out.
According to Mr. Joseph Mureithi the principal at Waruhiu Agricultural Training Centre (ATC) in Githunguri, onion cultivation is capable of raking in the big bucks. The training center teaches farmers on sound agricultural techniques through field demonstrations.
Mureithi says that a net of onions weighing between 13-14 kgs fetches KSH 900 on average or KSH 70 per kg. With proper management a hectare (2.5 acres) of land can bring forth between 14-17 tonnes of the crop, translating to between KSH 980, 000 to KSH 1.2 million, which is not a bad return for the small-scale farmer.
â€œCultivation of the crop is very profitable, even when the farmer is only managing to get KSH 350 for their net of onions. This is still good money,â€ reiterates Mureithi.
Farmers cultivating the crop can hope for even higher returns, should they be using high quality certified seeds.
Even though 17 tonnes of the onion crop produce is good money any day, the farmer can harvest up to 23 tonnes of Jambar F1 onion variety from just an acre. This means that if the crop is retailing at KSH 70/ kg, the farmer is capable of earning KSH 1.6 million and in a far shorter period, since the variety takes only three months to mature.
Compare that to what the farmer can hope to earn from cultivating cabbages. A head of cabbage will fetch KSH 20 on average, when the market price is good, says Mureithi. Given that an acre of land is able to produce up to 20, 000 heads under the right conditions, a cabbage farmer will get KSH 400, 000 at the end of the day.
Monsanto Kenya, which sells seeds of the Jambar F1 hybrid onion variety are convinced that their variety is the best ever in the country.
â€œWe have done a lot of market intelligence which shows that our onion variety is the best in the country,â€ states Erastus Matete of the commercial vegetable seed section at Monsanto Kenya.
The same goes for the onion variety Red Passion F1, whose seeds are sold by Simlaw Seed Company. This variety is able to give between 18-23 tonnes from an acre, according to James Nderitu a sales and marketing manager at the company.
â€œThe Red Passion F1 onion variety is twice the yield compared to the open pollinated varieties,â€ says Nderitu.
Onions have other advantages besides, what looks like fetching good profits over such crops as cabbages. They have a longer shelf life of up to three months, according to Mureithi.
On the other hand Matete adds that Jambar F1 onion variety has made it possible for farmers to plant the crop for up to three times in a year. This is in contrast to other types of crops which can only be cultivated twice in a year.