On part of 15 acres of Viakwetu farm, 28-year-old Laura-Nelima Lubisa grows more than 15 varieties of herbs and spices. The varieties include rosemary, sage, lemon grass, lavender, lemon verbena, Artemisia, perfumed Geranium, Hibiscus, Mulberry, Gooseberry, stevia, and red raspberry, all farmed organically.
Nelima’s farming journey dates back to 2018, when she left employment at a private firm to venture into the herbs and spices farming. She bought more than 12 cuttings of different herbs varieties, at a cost of Sh6, 000. It is from these cuttings that Nelima gets most of her planting materials. A mechatronic engineer by profession, Nelima started by growing herbs in containers, before expanding to real farm production.
Notes she, “Each herb contains health benefits, for instance catnip plant helps to lower menstrual pains in women while Hibiscus helps to detox or boost one’s immunity. The stevia powder can be used as an alternative to artificial sweeteners or honey,”
To maintain her organic farm, she uses the droppings from the rabbits, cows and chicken to improve soil fertility. “We also intercrop the plants based on their natural chemicals properties to control the pests and diseases,” says she
Nelima notes that there is demand in the market for herbs and spices. Most of her produce end up in Nairobi while some are sold at Kitale, Eldoret and Mombasa markets.
In 2019, Nelima won a Sh1 million-grant through Agri-biz, a programme funded by European Union to purchase machines such as electricity-powered dryer, distiller and milling machine and is in process to set up a solar dryer. She also went for six-month incubation training organized by Kenya Industrial Research and Development Institute (KIRDI).
Keen on supporting the herbs sector, the EU is currently funding the, Market Access Upgrade Program (MARKUP) Kenya, to promote market access and competitiveness across selected value chain.
MARKUP Kenya National Coordinator who doubles up as a horticulture expert Maina Karuiru says the program is keen on supporting youth and women as they are key pillars of the economy.
“Small holder producers are encouraged to work in groups so that they can be able to meet demand consistently and conveniently,” says Maina, adding that quality and observing standards is key to sustaining local and international markets.
Implemented by the United Nations Industrial Development Organisation (UNIDO), in partnership with the government and private sector, MARKUP Kenya will be focusing on aflatoxin, market access, pre and post- harvest handling, among other issues in the herbs and spices value chain.
Besides herbs and spices, MARKUP Kenya also supports selected fruits, vegetables, nuts and chili value chains, across 12 counties.
Nelima’s plan is to expand the acreage and train other farmers to grow herbs to meet the growing demand in local and export markets and set up a value addition factory at the farm in the next two years.