Incomes for over 3000 onion farmers in Endarasha Nyeri, has risen by over five times following the success of a 3 year initiative funded by Farm Africa and implemented by Farm Concern. The initiative has educated farmers on right storage of onions awaiting better prices and marketing that reduces the middleman clout and fetches higher prices.
According to Gilbert Muhanji of Farm Africa, financial constraints and likely spoilage would compel farmers to hurriedly dispose their freshly harvested onions to middle men at relatively lower prices than those in the market. To the middlemen farmers would sell a kilogram of onions at 5 or Sh10.
Rainy seasons compounded the problem forcing the farmers to “dispose the onions at low prices,” adds Muhanji. Then farmers also didn’t have knowledge on grabes storage technique where onions are dried in a controlled for up to 3 months without spoiling.
The grabes are small structures built raised from the ground where the bulbs are stored in controlled temperatures. The grabes ensure the onion bulbs “don’t become humid and rot,” said Muhanji when its wet.
Having learnt the storage techniques and proper marketing the Endarasha farmers can now sell a kilogram of onions even up to Sh50. Though the average prices depending on the market demand ranges from Sh25 to 35.
To increase their market influence Farm Concern International (FCI) had the over 3000 farmers clustered into 20 to 30 farmers to form what’s dubbed the commercial villages (CV). In these commercial villages farmers receive training from FCI in crop production methods and how to make decisions on fair market prices.
The CV’s also enhance communication between farmers and traders in markets. That way even if middlemen were to directly buy the onions, the CV leaders and farmers already “know the market prices,” said Muhanji. That way, farmers sell their onions at market price. “Use of mobile telephony enables the farmers to know the prices on ground,” adds Muhanji. Their core markets are in Karatina, Nakuru and Nairobi.
Besides the marketing and storage of the onions, farmers are also being educated on the right hybrid onions to farm. According to Stanley Mwangi the project coordinator of Farm Concern, some the best onion varieties are the BSS 230 and Jambar F1.
The BSS 230 variety is dark red, tolerant to pink rot and high yielding. They mature in 140 days but there are other breeds that mature in 3 months. Non-hybrid varieties per acre would initially fetch a farmer 800kg per season that translated to Sh8000, if a kilogram of onions was sold at Sh10.
Now with hybrid varieties, proper agronomy coupled with good marketing, an acre is fetching farmers Sh80, 000 per season signalling 10 fold earnings increase.
In a year farmers are having two onion seasons with the January one being the high season while the November is the low season. In January, per kilogram onions averagely sell at Sh35. November season is normally saturated with Tanzania’s onions and prices are lower.
Farm Africa sponsored the Endarasha initiative to the tune of 79,809 sterling pounds. A similar initiative has been replicated in Tanzania involving 2000 farmers.
Written By James Karuga for African Laughter
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