In 2011 Evance Kinywa sold all his 20 dairy cows due to increased production costs and poor milk prices in the market to start producing herbs such as mint, basil, rosemary and thyme among others a venture which is now promising him better future given the increasing demand of herbs and spices in local and international markets.
Before quitting dairy production, Kinywa tried making yoghurt as a way of adding value to the milk he produce to beat the short shelf life of the produce but still could incur debts resulting from high production and marketing costs.
“I got discouraged and sold all the animals, destroyed their shed and used the money I realised to pay off my debts first. Out of the little remaining cash I spent Sh5,000 to buy herbs seedlings for my two acres piece of plot that I had prepared,” said Kinywa.
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He says he was introduced into the venture during his yoghurt business when he blended some juice mixed with mint, turmeric and ginger which won his customers’ hearts who kept asking for more but the fact that he had to source the spices and herbs gave him the bright idea he is now cherishing.
Though the beginning was not that rosy because local consumers were not aware on the benefits of herbs and spices, his continuous effort in educating people on the benefits of the crops are yielding fruits.
“Our people are not aware of these medicinal and culinary herbs as their history dates back to the coastal region where the Arabs first introduced them to the communities living on the coast. This is why most of us in Mount Kenya region do not know their importance as food additives,” said Kinywa.
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Apart from the continuous positive pick up by consumers in the region, another advantage for Kinywa is that the crops do not need much attention, are not easily attacked by pests and diseases and take a short time to mature.
Most of them mature between three to five months, and thereafter continuous harvesting after one or two weeks.
“Thymes, for instance, mature after three months and harvest is done almost after every two weeks.”
His herbs are grown organically as if he put chemical fertiliser he says it interferes with the flavour and health benefits of the herbs.
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Other than local markets the Kenyan herbs are exported to Netherlands, Dubai and Britain.
Mint, rosemary and thyme offer 400kg per every quarter acre while basil offers 500kg per acre, with an average market price of Sh120 a kilo.
Kinywa’s future plan is to buy better machines that he will use to process the herbs and sell to big retailers such as the supermarkets besides trying his luck in the export market.
Meanwhile, he is currently earning Sh35,000 on a bad month from the sales of his herbs and spices.