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Farmers earn 2x from white onions, as red prices tumble

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By George Munene       

After establishing the right market linkages, John Kilosh, a farmer based in Nanyuki attests that he earns twice as much growing white onions as he ever did growing red onions.

Having trailed white onions on an acre of his farm, he has now increased his white onion farmland to three acres compared to two acres he now has for red onions which were previously his mainstay.

In major Nairobi markets, white onions are currently retailing at Sh70—about twice what consumers are parting with for red onions whose buying price is Sh38-40. At the farmgate, Kilosh says the fall in onion prices has hit hard for him too; “The market for white onions has been slow with middlemen buying from farmers for Sh40 per kilo, this, however, remains almost double what farmers are paid for red onion— Sh25.

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Pre-Covid-19 the farmgate kilo price was Sh60-70. The market for white onions being relatively niche, the partial closure of hotels and a slowdown in their export markets has dampened business,” Kilosh says.

“The cultivation costs of the two onion types are similar. The only major departure I make from farming red onions is I prefer to have them spaced five by five inches apart to the 4*4 spacing I employ for the reds. This allows full room for proper bulb formation; a crucial factor given the white onion market prefers big bulbs,” he explains.  

White onions have more sugar compared to red onions and also contain .5 more grams of fiber and a higher amount of sulfur. The bulk of white onions in the country is used up by hotels and is especially a preference for Indian consumers.

“Before farming white onions I would recommend that farmers properly study the market and have contact with buyers to avoid being strung with bulk quantities of onions they cannot dispose of,” John warns.

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Joshua Mamwaka, a wholesale trader at Muthurwa’s Wakulima Market recommends that small-scale farmers, especially those growing onions on less than an acre look into cultivating white over red onion onions. “With farmgate prices as low as Sh20 per kilogram it is near impossible for small-holder farmers to make a profit from red onions. The market for white onions is also not as niche as it assumed; we have had great demand for white onions from consumers and given we have very few farmers growing them their prices remain double that of red onions,” he illuminates.

For his first harvest, Kilosh got five tons of white onions from one acre growing Royal Seed’s Texas Grano at an acre seedling rate of 350,000. He admits to some missteps while establishing them in their nursery but having used the right agronomic practices for his second go, he expects better production.

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