The European Union (EU) – funded Market Access Upgrade Program (MARKUP) is keen on supporting among other value chains, the herbs and spices.
MARKUP Kenya is implemented by the United Nations Industrial Development Organisation (UNIDO) in collaboration with the Kenyan government and the private sector.
Herbs farming is slowly but steadily gaining popularity in the country. This is especially because of the readily available export market.
While there are various herbs which do relatively well on Kenyan soil and under the country’s climatic conditions, experts say it would be eligible to begin with the easiest and grow with experience.
Ruth Munyoro, an agronomist who specializes on herbs production and international marketing, says thyme would be the most ideal herb for a beginner.
“To begin with, this crop is not prone to diseases such as rust and pests such as aphids, thus, it is easy to manage,” says Ruth, adding that this means even farmers with no agricultural background can grow it with ease.
Easy to Grow
Besides, she adds, the crop is easy to grow. A farmer needs to prepare the land by installing drip irrigation, mixing soil with organic manure, and planting the seedlings.
After six weeks, the crop is usually ready for the first harvest. Interestingly, a farmer can harvest from the same plant, every month, for five years.
All that the farmer needs to do is to occasionally use organic liquid fertilizer to replenish soil nutrients, weed for the crop and have the drip irrigation operational.
The fact that the crop needs only occasional weeding means it is less labour intensive as workers are only much involved during monthly harvests.
“It is not advisable to use overhead irrigation on thyme as it soils the plants, thus affecting the quality,” explains Ruth, adding that drip irrigation easily reaches to the plants’ roots unlike the overhead type.
The crop thrives in hot areas and needs exposure to direct sunlight for six to eight hours, according to Ruth.
Seedlings are usually and readily available from suppliers like Plantech Kenya Ltd, and both seeds and cuttings can be used for propagation.
Despite its many advantages, this agricultural venture can be faced with some challenges like prices fluctuation, depending on demand and supply.
Besides, too much rainfall can be destructive to the crop, considering that it is grown outside, unlike those which are grown in greenhouses.
Currently, Ruth says, thyme is fetching about Sh800 per kilogram in the internationally, with the main market being within the EU.
MARKUP Promotes Market Competitiveness
MARKUP Kenya seeks to promote market competitiveness and food safety along herbs and spices, mango, passion fruits, macadamia and groundnuts value chains.
Other value chains of interest to this four-year project include chilies, French beans and snow peas.
The project is set to be implemented in 12 counties across the county. At the end, its effects are anticipated to be felt in form of more trade along the targeted value chains locally, regionally and internationally.
Additionally, food safety measures are expected to be geared up across the value chains, from production to consumption levels.
In the wake of the Covid 19 outbreak across the world, Ruth observes that the demand for herbs, especially thyme, has been on the rise.
This is especially attributed to the fact that this crop is believed to be useful in producing medication for infections on the upper respiratory system, and its wealth in vitamin C.