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Business smart farmer banks on crop with long shelf life, easy value addition

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While most farmers stick to traditional crops such as tomatoes and onions, Shadrack Yator has taken a calculated gamble and gone against the grain, seeking his farming fortune from the lucrative but little-grown turmeric spice.

Banking on its long shelf life and ease of value addition, the farmer based in Marafa, Kilifi County, invested Sh84,000 in buying seeds for an acre of turmeric which he is expanding to five acres this year.

Kenya imports most of its turmeric from India. In 2020, Sh34.7 million worth of turmeric powder was shipped into the country. Over the next decade, the global turmeric market is scheduled to rise 5.5 per cent every year to Sh757,920 million.

Beyond its use in the food industry as a spice for flavour and colour, turmeric’s growing demand is fuelled by its gaining popularity as an organic health product and supplement. It has been shown to have anti-cancer, anti-oxidant, and anti-inflammatory characteristics.

“The beauty of the crop is that unlike onions or tomatoes for example which can only be used as food, is that it can also be used in the medicinal and cosmetic sectors. Once harvested there is also no time pressure to sell it as it can be stored at room temperature for 21 days to a month and at 13 degrees for two months,” Shadrack explained. “ Unlike most crops, storage intensifies its flavour profile rather than diminishing it,” he added. 

The crop’s value addition is also relatively easy. It only needs to be cut into small pieces and kept free from dust until it completely dries. It is then further sun-dried into crisps and ground in a food mill. It can be stored in powdered form for up to three years.

While Shadrack who is an engineer by training acknowledges the risk of growing a crop that is still in its infancy in Kenya he says that his was a calculated gamble. “From my conversations with many market traders, turmeric supplies, unlike those of its sister crop ginger, are often limited,” he pointed out.

With his first harvest due this month, he is already hosting buyers who range from brokers, hoteliers, and individual buyers on his farm.

“We’ve had buyers from as far out as Somalia reach out to us. I’m also talking to friends in Germany looking into export possibilities. But that is far into the future. Thus far, I’d say the demand we’ve seen from local buyers will sweep up what we have currently planted,” he concluded. 

Shadrack also grows pawpaws, cashew nuts, ginger, and garlic and says he’s looking to expand his farm owing to the relative affordability of land in his area.

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