BY MALACHI MOTANO
Garlic popularly known as ‘Kitunguu Saumu’ proves to be a high worth horticultural plant due to its high demand, with attractive returns to farmers. Hortfresh journal establishes that garlic is used as an ingredient when preparing special cuisines not only in Kenya but also in a broad variety of French, Mediterranean, Spanish, Italian and Mexican recipes, hence high demand in both local and international markets.
Kennedy Mathenge is one of the garlic farmers who confirms that the business is lucrative. The former career banker quit his job to grow garlic in Ramulia area, Kieni west- Nyeri County, in a village – several miles away from his rural home in Nakuru.
“Since I am a professional banker, I began my career in the bank, worked in different mainstream banks but only for eight years when I saw money in the soil and choosing garlic was a complementary, “Mathenge begins his story.
With Kshs. 300,000 as starting capital he leased land, bought seeds, and prepared the land among other requirements that were needed to begin the new venture. I am now about one year old in the garlic business and has increased my acreage to three.
Mathenge says production of garlic onions looks tedious since it involves planting, application of manure, watering and praying (done in a week and weeding every month), possible diseases and control.
“For planting, garlic onion is vegetative propagated which means the farmer must plant individual cloves separating them from the main bulb. Farmers are advised to consider planting between 100 and 200kg of cloves on an acre. This would make irrigation and weeding easy. On spacing, they should be planted in double rows if not wide beds of four to six rows with 10 to 20cm between plants however, the best thing to start with is good seedlings. The size of the crop will determine your spacing,” Mathenge says.
When it comes to application of manure, he says well-compost manure should be ploughed in before plantingwith topdressing using liquid manure done regularly at the beginning of 6 – 8 weeks but is increased during bulb formation.
Watering is very important thoughlack of it during growth is the most common stress since the crop doesn’t compensate for drought periods by prolonged growth. “Just a short period of drought affects the yield, more so when bulbs are expanding. Lack of water predisposes the crop to infestation by insects,” he says.
Garlic onions just like any other crop, are exposed to disease but can be controlled. Some of the most common diseases include purple blotch, downey mildew, rust and bulb rot (white rot). “The good thing is that all can be easily controlled through wither long crop rotation, improved drainage or use of copper based fungicides like copper oxydchloride, which is accepted in organic farming, says Mathenge.
He says that unlike other high-value crops, garlic is not hard to grow since it only requires fertile well-drained soil, adequate moisture, and, of course, planting the right seeds to fully grow, unfortunately despite the availability of the above, it is still grown just in small scale. Some of Other areas where the crop can do well are parts of Narok, Nakuru and Meru counties.
Next is harvesting which should always start as soon as the lower leaves begin to yellow and fold and the crop becomes weak at the neck, beginning to fall. Garlic takes four months to be ready after planting. With recommended crop rotation, one can only do two seasons in a year.
Mathenge doesn’t regret quitting his lucrative job at the bank. Although he has just been into garlic farming for one year, he admits that there is indeed a big return if well handled. In his case, he targets 5 tonnes per acres but can always begin from four tonnes, to six.
For an acre piece of land he requires 100 kilograms of garlic seeds which go for up to Ksh 550 per kilo so, the cost of production would be 55,000 and produces between 4,000 to 6,000 kilograms of the crop. Going with 5000 kilos and selling at Ksh350 per kilo during the peak season Mathenge would make a gross income of about 1,750.
“Minus 55000, production cost, I make a clean 1,695,000 net income, though when it comes to selling, we normally look at the prices in the market that always range from Ksh 150 to Ksh 250 or even Ksh 300. I can remember there is a time prices went up to Ksh. 350, “says Mathenge. Sometime he chooses to sell garlic when fresh to seed producers.
“There is more than enough market for garlic locally even before thinking ofexporting the produce. My big markets are in Mombasa,” he says.
The local market according to the Horticultural Crops Directorate (HCD), requires 1,000mt of garlic every year. That although Kenya produces around 2,000 metric tonnes of the crop every year, the demand is still high, giving room for importation of large quantity almost half of its produce.
Data with HCD indicates that half of the garlic imports the country requested last yearwere from China in the attempts by traders and suppliers outside Kenya to reduce the supply gap. Surprisingly, even after packaging and importation, garlic is still sold at a wholesale price of about Sh200 per kilo. Experts maintain that the crop can grow well in the country hence doesn’t need.
Esther Kahuho runs eight years old Joe’s farm- an agribusiness venture managed by her daughter Edith Wanja Kahuho, with garlic becoming their recipe.
“Farmers should even forget about export markets since the country only produces an estimate of 2,000 metric tonnes of garlic per year so has to rely on imports. That means, there is still space for more production of the crop in Kenya’s markets. The market is big and cannot be filled by the current producers alone,” Edith Wanja says.
According to Wanja production of garlic is cost effective since apart from labour which only depends on the number of workers, farmers only need to control pests and diseases and big return is assured
“If one acre piece of land can produce around 4,000 to 5,000 kilograms of the crop, how much would you expect from just ten acres, is that pot a business worth venturing into?
Timothy Mburu a farmer from Naromuru, Nyeri County says he struck gold after venturing into garlic farming. He abandoned large-scale farming of potatoes and cabbage and invested in garlic based on its strong market value and the low production levels in Kenya, at a time when its demand is growing rapidly.
“I have since found that the crop earns six times more than its regular onion counterparts. I sell a kilogram of garlic at Sh300 during the good season and Sh100 in a bad season. Farmers selling regular onions bulbs sell at Sh50 per kilogram in good season and can go as low as Sh10 in bad season,” he said.
He decided to venture in garlic farming after realizing there was low production of garlic coupled with high demand since many farmers do not have much information regarding its production.
The cost of garlic production is low as it does not require a lot of care, it’s not prone to pest and diseases, and it grows in relatively dry areas with fertile soils.
“I plant the garlic on one acre and harvest 8 tonnes selling a kilogram of fresh garlic at Sh200 to Sh300, which is good return compared to maize and potatoes farming and from the profits he is able to provide sufficiently for his family.