By Kepher Otieno
Farmers in Western Kenya are giving up traditional cereal growing to venture into beetroot farming, an undertaking said to be paying off handsomely.
Until recently, many farmers did not know the economic and medicinal value of beetroot.
Beetroot is a rare perennial plant with leafy stems growing 1-2 metres tall.
Of its numerous cultivated varieties, the most well known is red root vegetable known as the garden beet.
The beetroot plant
Others include the leaf vegetables chard, spinach beet and sugar beet, which is important in table sugar production.
The beetroot plant
White and red beetroot are planted in the region with farmers preferring the latter.
Mr Alfred Sumba says the returns from beetroot are changing his fortunes.
" It pays, " Sumba says smiling as he holds a bunch of ripe beetroot pulps harvested at his Mamboleo farm in Kisumu.
Nyanza Provincial Director of Agriculture Joash Owiro says the region has the right conditions for beetroot farming.
Though the crop is not common as staple foods such as maize, beans, sorghum, and cassava, Owiro says the venture is worth every effort. He says the plant is easy to manage and it only requires patience and commitment to reap the benefits.
When the Standard on Sunday visited Sumba at his farm, he was harvesting his fifth crop this year.
The plant takes 60 days to mature, a manager at the Western Kenya Seed Company official says.
Joseph Metto, in charge of agricultural products, says an acre can produce up to 60,000 pulp tubers.
"One needs three kilogrammes of seeds each costing Sh3, 400," he says. The seeds are available in most Kenya seed Company stores countrywide. Mr Albert Sumba at his beetroot farm. Photos: James Keyi /Standard
Mr Albert Sumba at his beetroot farm.
Photos: James Keyi /Standard
The Kenya seed Company stockists and retail outlets sell 25 grams at 110 while 50 grams cost Sh170.
To plant an acre, a farmer may spend up to Sh20, 000 for planting, fertiliser, weeding, and ploughing costs, Metto says.
"One needs about 400 grams of seed for an acre. It may seem expensive but the returns are good," says the Kenya Seed official.
The crop is rich nutritional and medicinal value. Health experts say beetroot can help reduce blood pressure. Fresh beetroot can also be eaten raw.
"It can add a refreshing touch to a salad and make a good breakfast flavour," Metto says.
Sumba says this is one of the plants unique characteristics that inspired him to grow it.
"When I learnt of the benefits. I decided to spare portion of my farm to give it a try. And today I have no regret," he says.
Some farmers use the leaves to prepare food.
It can be steamed or cooked in boiling water.
It cooks for about 20 to 50 minutes depending on the size of the beetroot.
"Once it is ready it can be tested with either a skewer or spoon. If found soft, it is removed from heat and cooled under running water, making it easier to eat," Sumba says.
Some leaves and stems of young plants are steamed briefly and eaten as a vegetable.
"There are some people who choose to peel the deep red roots of garden beet and eat it raw as carrots, others boil it as potatoes," he says.
Research has also found that drinking about 500 millilitres of beet juice a day may significantly lower blood pressure.
Research shows that the nitrate, found in green, leafy vegetables, is what keeps low blood pressure.
It reveals that beetroot is a potent and nutritious source of natural energy and vitality.
" It is a great way to purify and build healthy blood and normalise the pH balance in our bodies" the research shows.
Clinical studies in Europe have demonstrated strong defence against malignant cell growth with the use of beetroot.
The effect was traced to nitrate in the beetroot that reacted with bacteria in the mouth.
But Sumba prefers growing the beetroot because of its high demand in the market.