By George Munene
When Alfred Koome touched down in Kenya from India on September 5, 2020, with a Bachelor of Science in Horticulture degree in hand he had it all mapped out: “I had received positive feedback from resumes I had sent out and was looking forward to getting employed at a flower farm around my hometown of Timau,” he said. Even the best-laid plans though often go awry; due to European lockdown measures occasioned by the Covid-19 pandemic Kenyan flower exports were down over 90 per cent and flower farms were undertaking mass layoffs.
This disappointment however birthed a budding garlic business that sees the 26-year-old deliver 400 kilograms of the herb at Sh250 a kilo to markets in Nanyuki and Isiolo every month. As he describes it: “I would not come close to making this much in formal employment.”
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“As a man, you only have so much time to feel sorry for yourself—I had access to a sizable plot of land, agricultural expertise, and had done extensive research on high-value crops I could cultivate, ” said Koome.
His sights were set on garlic farming and with good reason: “A bulb of garlic cost Sh20-30 in markets, a price that is similar to that of a kilogram of potatoes, ” he points out.
He first got into French beans (Mishiri) farming and used the returns he got to invest in garlic seedlings. Propagation material (seedlings) constitute the most significant bottleneck in terms of cost for potential garlic farmers. A kilogram of seedlings costs Sh300, with an acre requiring at least 100 kilograms.
Garlic farming is also no “get rich quick scheme” demanding Zen-like patience from farmers: Garlic cloves used in its propagation take three months to break their dormancy (sufficiently remove or damage the seed coat to allow water entry), with another four to three months required for the crop to mature.
While most farmers opt to grow and sell their crops in bulk, Koome has found value in subdividing his acre of land and selling his crop piecemeal. “Farm-gate prices hover at Sh200 a kilogram while bulk buyers offtake at least half a tonne of garlic from the farm at Sh100 for a kilo. I would rather deliver smaller quantities to mama mbogas and consumers directly at Sh250, which also ensures that I have a steady income throughout, ” he explained.
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The young farmer who is an incubatee of the ongoing Enable Youth Program—an African Development Bank (AfDB) and Government funded program that aims to train, mentor, and fund young agripreneurers—is currently gearing up to ensure he has a bumper harvest ready for the December holidays.