There is nothing that makes a farmer rejoice more than knowing there is a ready market for their produce. Hassle free.
This is one advantage that a section of farmers from Bahati Constituency in Nakuru have as farming takes a more economic approach from the usual subsistence practice.
The more than 80 farmers have adopted chives production, with the export market expressing insatiable appetite for the produce. The herb that belongs to the onion family is earning them up to Sh600 a kilo.
Traditionally, farmers in Bahati farmed maize and beans but have now become net exporters after vegetable seed company Premier Seeds Limited introduced them to chives farming.
Through a group model, farmers have been able to own greenhouses on credit through a partnership between Premier Seeds and Chase Bank. The partnership allows farmers to repay the loan from the chives proceeds at favourable repayment terms agreed upon between the financier and individual farmers.
To begin, farmers make a 10 per cent deposit as a commitment to the project before the construction of the greenhouses.
Premier Seeds supplies farmers with certified chives seeds and also trains them 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 is compliant with the export market,”
said Simon Andys, the founder of Premier Seeds.
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 spraying and irrigation times. This is in keeping with the export requirements of Good Agricultural Practices (GAP).
The crop is enjoying fanatical uptake among the farmers. It takes 45 days to mature after which farmers harvest every 20-25 days for up to three years.
An ordinary greenhouse measuring 240 metres squared produces up to 150 kilos.
The perennial crop is easy to grow and is rarely attacked by pests and diseases which has endeared it further to the farmers.
There is a high demand for chives in Europe, averaging between two and four per cent each year. This makes it a favorite across the entire herbs basket including coriander, basil and parsley among others.
The United Arab Emirates (UAE) countries have also expressed growing interest in Kenyan chives and luckily, the Nakuru farmers have found a buyer whom they have entered into a one 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 Andys.
The group model of growing chives 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 and. 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,” Andys added.
To farmers who are unable to raise funds for the construction of greenhouses, Premier Seeds has given them the option of growing other produce like stem broccoli, bulb onions, broad beans and beans through open field farming. The broccoli will be sold together with the chives.
“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.
Premier Seeds has received funding from the Tony Elumelu Entrepreneurship Programme (TEEP) to assist farmers in ventures like farming of high-value crops. TEEP is a continental programme that seeks to motivate entrepreneurs creating a difference in Africa.
The global market for culinary herbs and spices has been on an upward trajectory and is currently valued at approximately $2.3 billion with chives being among the front-runners according to the International Trade Centre. The European Union forms the bulk of this market.
In 2013, the EU imported some 533,000 tonnes of spices and herbs valued at €1.9 billion with imports from developing countries like Kenya accounting for 302,000 tonnes worth € 1billion.