Farmers cash in on demand for lucrative amaranth seeds

A Homa Bay agripreneur is expecting to earn an extra Sh50,000 from harvesting amaranth seeds next month, as demand for the grains’ nutritional value keeps rising. He was previously growing the common amaranth vegetable leaves, which would earn him from around Sh 30,000 to Sh50,000 in gross income. 

Phillip Odhiambo now expects to earn about Sh100,000 from the seeds in July alone, a stark difference from what the plant's leaves were bringing in.

Odhiambo started growing the crop in May this year on his one acre farm in Kakelo, Oyugis after abandoning onions. He sees it as an opportunity to cash in more from the seeds’ flour, which is a sure way of avoiding competition with vegetable dealers.

“Success in agribusiness is not copying your neighbour; it is going a step ahead of them," he said. "Demand for amaranth leaves is not so high in rural areas because any farmer can harvest this weed for vegetables. Hardly any of them think of the benefits of its seeds."

philip-odhiambo.jpg

How to grow the pig weed

Amaranth, which is also called the pig weed, is a common rural and urban vegetable delicacy called mchicha in Swahili. It is  a hardy weed that grows almost in any environment, including the wild, after germination.

To increase chances of germination, Odhiambo used three to four seeds in a very shallow hole at a spacing of 75cm by 25cm.

Holes are shallow because the seeds are small, therefore their food reservoir is limited.

After germinating, Odhiambo had to uproot the extra seedlings remaining with two healthy crops, to maximise harvest. The extra seedlings were used during in-filling on spaces where seeds failed to germinate.

“Production of amaranth as a vegetable is more challenging because of the pesticides required in controlling aphids and other insects. Even with minimum attack of pests, I am sure of harvesting seeds, because they are not directly attacked like leaves,” he said.

Harvesting and possible earning

Harvesting requires one to cut the floral part after it turns brown from the maroon appearance.

The crown is dried and hit with a rod on a clean mat to release the seeds.

One kilogramme of amaranth flour costs more than Sh130 in retail outlets such as Tuskys and Cleanshelf supermarkets.

According to National Farmers Information Service, NAFIS, one kilogramme of grains costs between Sh70 and Sh120. During shortages, it can rise up to Sh150.

From the one-acre, he expects to harvest at least 800kg in July this year, which could earn him a gross income of about Sh100,000.

1.jpg

Nutritional value of amaranth

The government of Kenya requires maize flour processors to fortify their products with nutritional elements to boost the fight against malnutrition. As a direct competitor to maize flour, amaranth flour has a major advantage: it already contains so many nutrients that it does not need to be fortified, making it a more cost-effective option, not to mention a healthier one.

Amaranth flour is also a strong antioxidant, as well as being rich in iron and calcium, among other major minerals - all of which are essential for good health.

Iron deficiency can lead to anaemia, while low levels of calcium can cause weak bones and teeth: this makes amaranth an appropriate food for all women, especially mothers during and after pregnancy, as the iron aids them in replenishing lost blood.

Since babies and young children cannot consume amaranth vegetables, flour porridge can instead supply the calcium which children need for strong bones and teeth formation.

 Amaranth is a giant crop, which ‘oppresses’ other plants in farms when it is a weed. Because of this, even with little attention, it is likely to do well.

Odhiambo can be reached on 725924401