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The next big thing in Kenya herbs and spices’ growing

Turmeric the golden spice of life

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It is said to aid in healing wounds, cuts and burns due to its natural antiseptic and antibacterial properties; it boosts the immune system and prevents liver diseases;
is anti-inflammatory and has anti-oxidant properties that assist in weight loss, skin and hair health; relieves common colds, coughs and fever and also helps in controlling type-2 diabetes, arthritis and in the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease.

Despite the lucrative returns of over Ksh500,0000 from half-an acre, turmeric is not as widely grown by Kenyan farmers as other high-value crops in the medicinal and aromatic plants (MAPs) family.

A native Indian spice, the yellow root, often referred to as the golden spice of life, is, however, spreading its roots in East Africa, with Uganda taking the lead. According to Mr Oliver Ndegwa, the CEO and lead technical engineer at Agrotunnel International, a company promoting turmeric farming, there has been little uptake of the crop due to an information gap.

“We import most of the turmeric consumed in the country because farmers lack information and quality seeds, despite the huge local and international market for its culinary and medicinal uses,” he says. Turmeric is not only beneficial in its returns but also boasts various health benefits for both humans and livestock. It is said to aid in healing wounds, cuts and burns due to its natural antiseptic and antibacterial properties; it boosts the immune system and prevents liver diseases; is anti-inflammatory and has anti-oxidant properties that assist in weight loss, skin and hair health; relieves common colds, coughs and fever and also helps in controlling type-2 diabetes, arthritis and in the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease. Besides all these, turmeric is widely applicable in herbal medicines and the cosmetics industry.

Mr Ndegwa, who has been mobilising farmers to grow the crop, notes that most farmers are either unaware of the crop or are put off by its long, eight-month growth period. The chief officer promotes turmeric cultivation having personally experienced the crop’s curative nature. “Last year, I was diagnosed with high blood pressure and put on medication for life. It was expensive at Ksh10,000 monthly,” he recalls. After taking the drugs for some time, he says, he realised that they were largely made from turmeric and decided to eat turmeric and drink its concoction. A year later, his high blood pressure was gone, replaced by an idea of growing the crop.

Turmeric thrives in a tropical climate with a heavy rain period. It does well in organically rich, well-drained loamy soils with a pH of 4.5-7.5. The plant takes 6-9 months to mature, depending on variety and other factors.

Investment and production

Though the costs of raising an acre can be regarded as quite high at between Ksh350,000 to Ksh400,000 for seeds, water, manure, and labor, in comparison to other crops, a kilo fetches Ksh200 to Ksh400, depending on variety and demand.

An acre can yield up to 15,000 kilos of wet turmeric rhizomes (10,000 kilos when dry), which translates into Ksh2,000,000 to Kshs4,000,000 when sold dry and Ksh3,000,000 to Ksh6,000,000 when wet, says Mr. Ndegwa. If divided by nine months maturity waiting period, it means that a farmer will be earning about Ksh300,000 – Ksh600,000 a month from each acre of turmeric.

Formation of Kenyan turmeric firm

Early this year, Mr. Ndegwa founded Turmeric Kenya Ltd to mobilise farmers to cultivate turmeric. “We sourced planting materials from Uganda and the CIM Pitamber turmeric variety from India.” He adds: “We are at the multiplication stage with the CIM variety. However, farmers can get tissue culture materials for this variety, which has the highest curcumin of 12.5 percent.” The CIM variety, he strongly believes, can be a game changer for farmers as it matures in 180 to 190 days and has a lower wet-to-dry conversion rate of 22 percent. Turmeric Kenya Ltd has demo farms at Syokimau, Twala in Kajiado and Machakos. About 2,000 farmers from Murang’a County are ready to grow the crop. These farmers ordinarily rely on coffee but excitement is growing and they are eagerly waiting to plant a crop they are sure will spice up their lives and fill their pockets.

Mr. George Njoya Wango, a smallholder from Maragua, Murang’a County, is preparing for commercial production of turmeric. “I had been wondering what crop to take up instead of coffee but not anymore,” says Mr Wango, a master’s degree holder and the CEO of a farmers group, Peasant Coffee Farmers Association (PCFA), which started in 2016.

Mr Wango met Mr Ndegwa by chance when he was looking for contract farmers to grow turmeric. His newly-found friend wanted to venture into value addition for the crop, which was in demand locally and internationally. The two started three companies to mobilise farmers, work on production and market their products. Turmeric Ofarm Kenya would deal with organic production of the spice, Turmeric Kenya, its marketing, and Turmeric Ofarm Association of Kenya would be the umbrella body for farmers.

“We approached the whole venture step by step and calculated production and acreage needed for our first pilot stage for trials, targeting to plant 400 metric tonnes of turmeric rhizomes,” he says. Murang’a farmers, who had planted Hass avocados in 2017, are part of the first pilot and are happy to intercrop the avocados with the high-value short-term crop. Farmers in Nyeri, Embu, Meru, Kirinyaga and Kiambu have also registered for the venture.

About 2,000 farmers from Murang’a County are ready to grow Turmeric being sure it will spice up their lives and fill their pockets

“Our farmers are just waiting for the seedlings. The planting materials imported from India are still awaiting clearance at the Port of Mombasa due to Covid-19 restrictions,” says Mr Wango. The two have partnered with the Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organisation (Kalro), Kenya Industrial Research and Development Institute (Kirdi), Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology (Jkuat), Kenyatta University (KU), Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Service (Kephis) and the Ministry of Water and Fisheries. “These institutions will assist with financial support, research, seed multiplication, inspection and registration, technological approach advisory, provision of value addition facilities and irrigation services to farmers,” Mr Ndegwa adds. The company is also working with Kirdi to begin trials for processing and making of turmeric drinks, latte, paste and powder as they target local and export markets this year. “We have secured a partner in Canada who will buy each jar of turmeric powder at $30. We want farmers who can grow the crop organically for this market.” Once this pilot stage is completed, the two intend to roll out the project across the country.

 

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