With rains having pounded most parts of the country recently, there is bound to be a surplus supply of vegetables in the markets and producer prices are likely to plummet.
This situation is, however, not likely to last long. When the rains subside a depressed supply of vegetables and high producer and retail prices result.
Extreme weather conditions often impact negatively on vegetable farmers. While the rains boost production, producer prices nosedive leaving farmers with little income.
Most end up selling their produce for close to nothing, while others feed it to their animals.
How then can they store their produce to supply the market throughout the year and spread their income or ensure that they do not go at a loss during times of surplus?
For Mr Francis Kiarahu Muraguri, a farmer in the semi-arid Laikipia West district, the rainy season is not time to sell but to harvest his vegetables and wait for the dry season to realise maximum profit.
As he works on his 12-acre farm near Sipili market in Ng’arua division, the rule of supply and demand plays only too well in his mind.
“My sukumawiki (kales) are ready for the markets but even if I harvest them now, I will sell them probably in July when the prices will be good,” he says as he tends to his one-acre sukumawiki farm.
At first, he was drying the vegetables in the sun in small quantities for family use, before up-scaling to a solar drier on learning about the technology from a community-based organisation involved in advancing new farming technology.
For two years now, the former butcher has been drying up his greens and taking them to the market when there is a shortage of the commodity.
Mr Muraguri learnt about the solar drying technology at Ng’arua Maarifa Centre and started by converting his donkey cart into a solar drier. He now uses this to dry the greens for commercial purposes.
The commodities range from kales, climbing beans and cassava, to another crop he calls ‘‘survivor’’ which is a type of vegetable.
He is among a group of small-scale farmers benefitting from the centre which is run by Arid Land Information Network (Alin) based at Sipili market.
Here, farmers who are registered with the non-profit making organisation are able to access information on good farming methods and marketing tips.
Alin works with the ministry of Agriculture to promote drought resistant crops and links farmers to markets through use of ICT. “Now I am able to dry my vegetables easily and Alin is also assisting in marketing my produce,” he says.
Besides, cultivating vegetables on his farm, the farmer who relocated from Nairobi in 2005 to practice farming also grows fruits like avocadoes, apples and oranges. Other crops include sweet potatoes, bananas and cassava.
During the dry season the farmer irrigates his vegetables using water from a water-pan that he has constructed within his land.
As recognition for his effort, ALIN nominated Mr Muraguri to represent Laikipia farmers in an international event dubbed Acknowledge Share Fair Held in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia last year.
Mr Muraguri says he is now confident that with the new solar drier, he will be able to preserve quality vegetables for sale later in the year though he is quick to caution farmers not to venture into this business blindly.
“Depending on the locality, one can still realize good profits by selling his or her fresh vegetable and those who wish to start drying them should do so purely to avoid wastage,” he says.
The solar drier uses direct sunlight which is trapped through a polythene paper fixed on the stand. It ensures that vital nutrients are not lost and the vegetables retain their green colour.
Drying vegetables through open sunlight leads to lose of quality since they turn yellowish, says Mr Muraguri.
Chop the leaves into small bits just as it is done when preparing them for cooking before introducing them into the drier.
Once they are dried up, the vegetables are packed into one or two kilo containers or packets and they are ready for market. Wait until the dry season to sell your vegetables.