For close to five years now, Dan Onkoba has specialized in onion farming and is reaping handsomely. Having been born and bred in Kisii County, he always had a passion for farming having been raised in an agricultural farming community. He began farming in Oloitoktok and later on relocated to Nguu scheme, Makueni County for proximity to Nairobi where he majorly sells his farm produce.
It is harvest time at his farm and he opines that he expects to harvest up to 15 tons of onions per acre which is 15,000 Kilograms. “I sell a kilo for Ksh. 40 which translates to ksh 600,000. After subtracting my cost of production which is close to ksh 150,000 per acre; at the end of the day, I have something to smile about,” he said. He has sub-divided his eight acres’ land under onions into several blocks.
According to Onkoba, farming is rewarding as long as one takes it as a business and identifies the crop to specialize in. “I always advice people who are venturing into agribusiness to stick to one lane; for example, if you are planting cabbages and tomorrow there is good price for tomatoes, don’t jump into it, you will burn your fingers because you don’t understand the dynamics that are involved in terms of cost of production and market. Don’t be swayed by the prices,” he advised.
The secret of succeeding in onion farming he opines is to ensure the plants are well fed for the first five weeks after transplanting from the nursery. Fertilizer application determines the sizes of the onion bulb; fertilizers with high nitrogen content are preferred during this duration. During the first week, he applies urea which has 46 percent of Nitrogen content. The second week he applies DAP whose nitrogen content is 23 percent and later applies Ammonium phosphate for the remaining three weeks. It contains 16 percent of nitrogen.
“While applying fertilizers, I make sure the plants are well watered as they are heavy feeders. After five weeks, I spray to prevent thrips and to kill weeds. I don’t weed as this has a tendency of destabilizing the developing onion bulbs. I continue feeding the crop with water until such a time they are almost ready for harvesting, “he said.
Just like any other business; Onkoba who is a former project manager at Kampala University reveals onion farming requires a lot of planning and timing. “It goes without saying that you cannot start a project without knowing what to expect. This could turn out to be an unsuccessful endeavor; if you do not have time and prepare yourself properly,” he said.
Currently the onion agri-business has been in-filtered by middlemen who usually source for onions from Tanzania between June – September hence affecting the price of the commodity locally. The cost of production in Tanzania is low compared to Kenya. “For example the cost of fungicides both preventive and curative in Tanzania is ksh 700 while here in Kenya is ksh 3,000. On top of this, the Kenyan Government has increased VAT for fuel affecting commercial farmers like me, as we normally use tractors for cultivation and ferrying our produce to the market. If you happen to have produce on the farm during the time Tanzania onions hit our market, you will incur loss. So proper timing and preparation is key especially when there is low supply in the markets, you will make huge profits,” he revealed.
For his future prospects, he intends to purchase more pieces of land to increase his area of production as Makueni County has relatively cheap pieces of lands and clean titles. All said and done, the market for onions in Kenya is available. Almost every Kenyan delicacy requires use of onions. Whether one is cooking rice, stew or vegetables among others, onions must be used as an ingredient. Therefore, onions are key household food that are used on daily basis.
Secondly, the hospitality industry is growing. Many people in this sector are looking to attract customers by making delicious and high quality foods; obviously, they will use onions to make foods as well as salads. Other places that a farmer can target include schools, hospitals, and restaurants among other facilities.