News and knowhow for farmers

Former hawker helps farmers rake in garlic millions

agronomist services

By George Munene

“The farmg­ate price of Grade 1 gar­lic is cur­rently Sh150 per kilo­gram, the spice ma­tures in four months and from an acre a farmer can har­vest at least six tons. This means from just one acre a farmer can rake in Sh1­mil­lion. This makes gar­lic farm­ing a clearly prof­it­able ag­ri­cul­tural en­deavor,” says Stan­ley Gichuki, the pro­pri­etor of Saumu Em­pire.

Des­pite its price drop­ping in re­cent months due to an in­flux of gar­lic into the coun­try im­por­ted from Rwanda, in the six years he has been in the gar­lic busi­ness, Gichuki says he has not seen its price drop below Sh100 per kilo­gram.

The major hurdle to get­ting into gar­lic farm­ing is its cost of pro­duc­tion. For a new­bie farmer, grow­ing gar­lic on an acre could run them between Sh160,000-250,000 de­pend­ing on avail­ab­il­ity and ac­cess­ib­il­ity to water. “I often ad­vise farm­ers to start small as they learn the ropes, per­haps on one-quarter of an acre which can cost them about Sh50,000. A mod­est be­gin­ning you can build on is bet­ter than not start­ing at all,” he says.     

On fin­ish­ing high school in 2011, Stan­ley hawked farm pro­duce to try and make ends meet. While most ag­ri­products were read­ily avail­able, the Nyeri-based farmer could hardly scrounge 10 kilo­grams of gar­lic to sell to cus­tom­ers who were ever in de­mand of it. Hav­ing iden­ti­fied this ob­vi­ously un­der­served mar­ket, in 2014, he em­barked farm­ing on farm­ing the spice on just one-quarter of an acre, which he has built to what is now Saumu Em­pire: a gar­lic farm­ing and breed­ing busi­ness.

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The mar­ket­ab­il­ity of loc­ally grown gar­lic has also been on the up­swing; “Most of Kenya’s gar­lic is im­por­ted from China but with the brief Covid-19 im­posed lock­down in March of last year many con­sumers had a taste of loc­ally grown gar­lic which many con­tend is tastier and more aro­matic to im­ports,” the young farmer elu­cid­ates. Chinese gar­lic is also bleached in chlor­ine to help it keep longer and for whiten­ing. Ad­di­tion­ally, its cloves are treated mak­ing it im­possible for use in propaga­tion.   

Gar­lic is graded ac­cord­ing to size with a farmer need­ing to get at least 40 kilo­grams; this is classed as Grade 2; per bulb for its com­mer­cial pro­duc­tion. Grade 1 gar­lic weighs over 50-55 grams. Grade 1 gar­lic has a farmg­ate price of Sh300, and Grade 2 fetches half of that; Sh150.    

“I prefer farm­ing gar­lic to any other crop be­cause of two major factors: its long stor­age time of up to 6 months makes gar­lic an ideal farm­ing choice; in case the price is too low, un­like most ag­ri­cul­tural pro­duce which is eas­ily per­ish­able, farm­ers can hold onto their gar­lic and wait for more fa­vor­able mar­ket con­di­tions. The price of gar­lic is also an­other at­tract­ive pro­pos­i­tion for those look­ing to get into its grow­ing; the spice usu­ally sells for between Sh120 and 300,” he ex­plains.

Now grow­ing three-acre of gar­lic of his own, and hav­ing an­other 100+ out­grow­ers, it is a point of pride for him that without any ex­ternal sup­port, he has man­aged to grow his busi­ness stead­ily only off what he earned from farm­ing. 

Stan­ley points out that many farm­ers look­ing to get into the nas­cent gar­lic farm­ing ag­ribusi­ness fail due to a lack of proper ag­ro­nomic know­ledge. To this end he of­fers train­ing at a charge of Sh3000 and con­sultancy ser­vices to bud­ding farm­ers; cur­rently hav­ing dozens of satel­lite farmer pro­jects he is over­see­ing. Saumu also buys gar­lic from its out­grower farm­ers in an ef­fort to meet the crop’s high de­mand. 

Seeds are the major cost in gar­lic pro­duc­tion; for an acre of gar­lic, a farmer needs 200 kilo­grams of plant­ing cloves which cost Sh400-600 per kilo­gram. Gar­lic farm­ing is as well labor-in­tens­ive, re­quir­ing con­sist­ently avail­able farm­hands. You will also need to have ac­cess to a con­stant sup­ply of water.  Des­pite the ob­vi­ous chal­lenge

Buy­ing ma­ture qual­ity seed­lings means less pro­duc­tion cost, e.g. thin­ning. The cloves are also dis­ease-free as the sickly are weeded out in the nurs­ery.

Gar­lic can be planted in basins or beds; this is usu­ally dic­tated by the ir­rig­a­tion method in use. Under ideal con­di­tions, an acre of land can cater to 1400-1500 gar­lic plant­ing basins with one basin meas­ur­ing 2 meters by 1 meter and hold­ing 200 bubs for farm­ers prac­ti­cing flood ir­rig­a­tion. An acre of land should thus have a plant pop­u­la­tion of 280,000. A bulb should have a weight of 110-40 grams. With an av­er­age bulb weight of 50 grams, a farmer can ex­pect a total yield of 14000 kilo­grams. 

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In the basins, garlic should be spaced 10 cm by 10cm apart. Ordinary basins measure 2M by 1M ensuring there is enough room for field navigation during routine practices such as weeding and surveying. 

Stanley advises farmers to conduct soil analysis, which is crucial in establishing their soil profile before setting on commercial garlic production. Its major soil nutrient requirements are Phosphorus, Nitrogen and Calcium. The crop performs best in loam, clay and red volcanic soils that are slightly acidic with 5-7 PH. A bucketful of fine well-decomposed goat/cow manure can be used to fertilise a two-meter basin of garlic. DAP fertilizer is used at planting, CAN fertilizer is applied at first top dressing taking care to furrow it around the plant’s base and not touch its stem due to its high scorching effect. NPK is then used at the plant’s bulbing. Herbicides are used at first weeding with hand weeding done thereafter.

Garlic is classed as soft neck or hard necked. Hard neck garlic can be grown in highland areas while the soft necked fares better in more arid regions. As with most other vegetables, garlic matures faster in hotter regions. Garlic is majorly affected by blight; it is not suited to areas with temperatures below 14°C.

Saumu Empire: 0708233861

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