Tanzania, Egypt and other onion producing countries have taken over the Kenyan onion market with reports indicating Tanzania is supplying Kenya with more than 50 per cent of the product. Farmers in Kajiado County's Oloitokitok Sub-county, which has been the main supplier of onions for the Kenyan market for years cannot compete with Tanzania's counterpart.
High input costs
James Murua, a retired Ministry of Agriculture extension officer in Oloitokitok, said taxation on imported agrochemicals, seeds, fertilizer among other inputs have made the critical farm inputs expensive on the part of the farmer, leading to meager returns after harvests.
" No one would invest to harvest a loss. For instance, the cheapest hybrid onion seeds per kilogramme cost KSh10,000. A farmer requires about three kilogrammes for one acre. He will not compete with a Tanzanian farmer who used Mang'ola seeds (Tanzania's locally bred onion seeds)," he said.
Mang'ola, which costs KSh500 is not certified by the Tanzania’s seed regulatory authority, although it is common with farmers there.
A global competitiveness study by USAID in 2015 indicated that funds spent on agriculture in the country are less than half that of regional competitors.
Despite the strength of the private seed sector, seed availability remains a problem in Kenya. Most farmers get the growing material through export companies, who have exclusive contracts with seed companies, the report noted.
Murua, who worked in the region for five years said a farmer will need at least KSh20,000 to pump water for irrigating onion farms. River and rain water sources are not reliable in Oloitoktok.
It is such heft production costs that are gradually making farmers opt for other crops.
Joshua Majakisi, the county Executive for Water and Irrigation who has also held the Agriculture docket soon after establishment of counties, said tomatoes have more returns than onions.
"A farmer will harvest more than once from tomatoes, unlike onions. And a crate would fetch anything between KSh4,000 and KSh8,000 depending on the market demand. The highest a 15kg onion net can fetch is KSh1,200.”
Majakisi concludes that with competition from neighbouring countries, Kenyan farmers have no competing chance.
The current Agriculture Executive at the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock & Fisheries, in Kajiado County, Jonah Orumoi was not available for comment, instead saying in a text message that he was busy and promised to call later.