French beans farming, gaining momentum in Kajiado County

French beans farming, gaining momentum in Kajiado County

French beans, also known as snap or green beans and locally as ‘miciri’, are a major export crop with a low consumption rate in Kenya. Of late, Kajiado County is coming up as a potential place for French beans farming with many farmers tapping on its cultivation.

First pioneered by a few deep pocketed farmers, the pods have now become a cash crop of choice, even for residents with limited financial resources. This is attributed to the high returns of the crop. Grown both under rain fed and irrigation based, French beans have become the preferred cash-cow for hundreds of farmers in the region.

Pastor Jackson Mbuthia of Kenya Assemblies of God (KAG) in Kajiado County is an epitome of hard work. Apart from feeding his flock with the word of God, he is also contributing to feeding the nations with an array of horticultural produce, French beans being a major component of what he grows. Currently he has over 6 acres piece of land under cultivation of the crop.

He recounts that his journey to farming began in 2004 when he visited Kajiado County and was impressed with the scenery thus he bought a 6 acre land. While still working in the city, his wife had the urge of staying in the countryside and immediately after retirement he relocated his family and embarked on farming.

“My first stint with farming was growing onions and tomatoes and not breaking even, a group of people all of a sudden visited me with the intention of leasing an acre piece of land from me for which I obliged. They began growing crops such as herbs and French beans and out of curiosity I decided to join the bandwagon because their farming ventures seemed to thrive. Since then I have never looked back, it has been a fascinating 10 years of farming the crop,” he elucidated.

French beans farming by Kenyan farmers is fast growing to tap on the insatiable demand of the produce in the export market which is used for both fresh consumption and processing; canning and freezing purposes.

They are one of the major horticultural crops from Kenya that farmers engage in, smiling all the way to the bank. It is a fascinating venture especially when on a contract basis. This is when the company involved is committed to picking up the produce in good time and paying the farmers promptly.

The high demand season of the crop runs from September to April. During this period, EU market face winter and their only option is to import and that is when Kenyan farmers benefit. Currently, French beans farming is widespread, especially in warm-wet regions such as Thika, Machakos, Uasin Gishu, Kisumu, Narok, Nyeri, parts of Kajiado County, Western Kenya, Naivasha, Murang’a, as well as Kirinyaga.

“Before planting French beans, one should consider knowing the nutrient and chemical status of the soil. The optimum soil pH is 6.5 to 7.5, but French beans can tolerate a low pH of up to 4.5. Below a pH of 4.5, plant growth is impaired through limitation of development of the rhizobium bacteria that are responsible for the nitrogen fixation in the galls formed on the bean roots. It’s advisable to carry out a soil test before planting,” he said.

French beans are sown directly into the land. The land should be ploughed and harrowed properly just before planting. With irrigation, they can be grown all year round. Spacing should be single rows of 30x15cm; a seed per hole. The spacing depends on the variety, soil fertility, water availability as well as climate. It is advisable to plant in blocks separated by a path of about 50cm

The production of good quality French beans fit for export market is dependent on various factors including high adherence to International Food standards. “We follow the procedures and the good agricultural practices. We have the Kenyan Gap and Global Gap and there are a lot of audits that are usually done and we fit into all these. KEPHIS usually visit our farm to establish if we are really following the right procedures which enables us to avoid getting interceptions for the produce in the export market. When farming the beans we normally spray chemicals which have a pre-harvest Interval (PHI) residue of 7 days at the germination stage but as the crop grows the PHI of chemicals sprayed reduces to 1 day to reduce the residues found in the beans,” he explained.

To rejuvenate the soil with more nutrients after successive planting for crop rotational purposes, Mbuthia normally plants fodder for animals.

The biggest challenge faced by French beans farmers is pests and diseases. Whiteflies and thrips are the major menace because they multiply rapidly and when they attack a farmers garden chances of them wiping out all the crops are very high. Proper and timely spray program is advised while also employing cultural methods of controls.

With proper farm management he harvests around 1.5 tons from an acre piece of land. Having a reliable source of water for irrigating crops is key to successful farming.
“Farming is the way to go nowadays. To succeed in French beans farming, farmers need to be specific from good chemical application, good water application and where possible contract an agronomist,” Mbuthia advised.

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