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The Standard
But despite a favourable climate and a stable industry, farmers continue to shy away from venturing into new types of ornamental crops due to uncertainty of farming practices and availability of markets.

Although floriculture has bloomed in Kenya in the recent past, many farmers remain reluctant to take it up.

According to the Kenya Flower Council, the main cut flowers grown in Kenya are roses, carnations, and alstromeria, gypsophilla, lilies, eryngiums, arabicum, hypericum, statice and a range of summer flowers.

But despite a favourable climate and a stable industry, farmers continue to shy away from venturing into new types of ornamental crops due to uncertainty of farming practices and availability of markets.

At the recent Nairobi International Trade Fair, Grace Kagochi, an extension officer at the Ministry of Agriculture, was on hand to enlighten farmers on ornamental amaranth farming, a profitable crop mainly grown for export.

Suitable for almost any climate, ornamental amaranth is easy to grow. Some people grow it in their gardens as its bright red or pink coloured flowers are considered beautiful for landscaping and for indoor flower arrangements.

“Ornamental amaranth is drought-resistant. It can grow in all areas,” says Kagochi. “When a farmer decides to grow this flower for commercial purposes, he needs to have enough land that is not water-logged to enable the flower grow to maturity.”

The flowers require soft soil to allow the flower’s roots access enough water. It is therefore advisable to soften the soil to ensure good drainage and aeration  for the flowers bloom to their maximum potential.

The soil is then mixed with manure. The width of the bed should be one metre at any length. A handful of fertiliser( DAP) is then applied per square metre.  Using a rake, soften the bed until the till is fine as the seeds are very small.

The seedbed is then watered and small shallow trenches that are approximately one-inch deep are made with the tip of a finger or a small stick.

“You then have to mix your seed with some soil as they are very tiny,” Kagochi said. “The ratio of mixing the seed to the soil is 1:10 so that when you drill, many won’t fall together at the same point.”

The seeds are covered lightly with small amounts of soil to allow for easy germination, which occurs after five days. “After the seeds are germinated, your work is just to water the plants. In dry areas, you need to water every evening depending on the stage of growth,” she said.

Yellowing of the leaves is a sign that the flower is mature for harvesting.   But while the leaves of ornamental amaranth are edible, Kagochi does not encourage farmers to use them for food.

“If you consume them, you consume the pots which are feeding the flowers, yet in the market you fetch more the longer the flower is,” she explained.

How much a farmer makes financially from the crop depends on how well the plants are taken care of from planting to harvesting.

“You can make enough from a bed of 10 metres by one metre, as you can plant many stems on it. A flower of 95cm and above sells for more than Sh300. If well maintained, a stem is expected to have a number of internodes, each with a flower that are all attached on the main stem. There should be flowers on the stem from four inches above the ground to the top of the stem,” she says.

Ornamental amaranth seeds are sold in Tigoni in Limuru, Kiambu County. For between Sh2,000 and3,000, one will get about 10 grammes of the plant, which is a lot as the seeds are very tiny.

And just as in all types of flowers, the main challenge for ornamental amaranth farmers is access to direct markets, having to rely on middlemen.

“We advise farmers to come up with strong associations so that they can get their own market. With Soko Fresh, all a farmer needs to do is upload a photo of their plants and say how much they are selling it,” said Kagochi.

floriculture ornamental plants Nairobi International Trade Fair