About 200 farmers in Bahati constituency of Nakuru County are earning up to Sh500 per kilo of culinary herbs such as basil and chives, a classic example of how high value crops can multiply farmers’ revenues.
This follows an initiative by Premier Seeds, a vegetable seed company which have seen them drop loss making maize three years ago.
The venture has not only raised social economic status of those farmers but their success will for a long time be used as a case study to illustrate just how possible smallholder farmers can join export caravan now dominated by large scale producers if they adopt high value crops.
“For long culinary herbs production in the country has been dominated by big players while small scale producers have been grappling with low income crops that they can only sell locally. However, our certified and high yielding planting materials have proved otherwise for the farmers,” said Simon Andys the founder of Premier Seeds.
The firm is currently working with 8,000 farmers across the country who are able to access seeds and services of the company. Among these are the 200 culinary herbs farmers found in Nakuru.
Through a group model, the 200 farmers have been able to own greenhouses on credit through a partnership between Premier Seeds and a financial institution that allows farmers to repay the loan from the proceeds of culinary herbs at favourable repayment terms that are agreed upon between the financier and individual farmers. Farmers make a 10 per cent deposit before the construction of the greenhouses as commitment to the project.
Premier seeds work with the farmers through supply of the certified culinary herbs seeds, training the farmers on good agricultural practices, building their greenhouses and linking them to ready markets.
“Most of the farmers have not practiced greenhouse farming before and are growing a crop that requires observance of good agricultural practices and traceability. We have, therefore, had to do thorough training on every aspect of farming to ensure that the farmers’ produce are compliant with the export market,” said Andys.
Such practices include having a tracking sheet at the entrance of each greenhouse that allows farmers to record the timing of key activities in the greenhouse including the time of spraying and irrigation. This is in keeping with the export requirements of Good Agricultural Practices (GAP).
The culinary herbs that are now enjoying fanatical uptake among the farmers takes 45 days to mature after which farmers harvest after every 20-25 days for up to three years.
“I grow basil within an ordinary greenhouse measuring 240meters squared and I can produces a maximum of 150 kilos whereby a kilo is bought by exporters at between Sh400-500,” said John Kimani, one of the farmers.
According to the farmer, the perennial crop is easy to grow as it is rarely attacked by pests and diseases which has endeared it further to the farmers.
The demand for culinary herbs has been on the rise in Europe, averaging between two and four per cent each year, making it the favourite across the entire basket of herbs that include coriander and parsel among others. UAE countries have also expressed growing interest in Kenyan chives and basil.
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The Nakuru farmers have found a buyer who they have entered into two year contract with.
“Demand has outstripped supply. We have received so many delivery orders from the export market that we have been forced to cancel some because we cannot keep up. That is how huge the export market for chives is,” said Kimani.
The group model of growing culinary herbs has been strategic in allaying fears of exporters who worry about consistency in supply from individual farmers.
“Once farmers harvest their individual produce we weigh and record them. We then export in bulk to meet the heavy orders and assure the buyers of consistent supply. Payments are however credited to individual farmers’ accounts,” Said Andys adding that Premier Seed also helps the growers in accessing the markets.
To farmers who are unable to raise funds for the construction of greenhouses, Premier Seeds has given them the option of growing other lucrative produce like stem broccoli, Bulb Onions, broad beans and beans through open field farming.
“These farmers are therefore able to save even as they continue with open field farming up to the point where they will have saved enough to pay for the greenhouse,” Andys added.
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Such initiatives have seen Mr. Andys, become a fellow of the Tony Elumelu Entrepreneurship Programme (TEEP), a continental programme that seeks to motivate entrepreneurs creating a difference in Africa. Premier seeds have received funding from the programme to assist farmers in ventures like farming of high value crops.