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Chives farmer hacked export market but says it isn't all rosy

By Mercy Kahenda
Horticulture expert Priscilla Wairimu examines newly germinated chives at the farm’s propagation unit. [Mercy Kahenda/Standard]

A few kilometers from Nakuru town, greenhouses are spotted at Maili Sita, along Nakuru-Nyahururu highway.

Labourers dressed in green dust-coats are busy working on the greenhouse farm that produces chives, a spice for export market.

Production of the herb on the farm known as Herb Factory is done in 24 greenhouses erected on 6-acre parcel of land.

Jacqueline Nuwamanya, the farm’s owner says the herb which is mainly for export has to be grown under strict conditions to ensure they are up to the international standards. “The crop is grown under strict supervision to maintain its quality to meet the demand of the international market,” says Nuwamanya.

The crop is grown in different stages for continuous production, for example, there are newly planted, those at weeding stage and ready for harvesting. Some are under propagation, ready for transplanting.

“Work on the farm is intensive, but it is worth it because of the high returns and ready market,” she says. On the farm, chives seeds are planted in trays using coco peat and placed in dark room covered with a plastic bag, to fasten the germination process.

The seeds germinate within 48 hours and are later placed in a propagation unit for proper care that entails feeding, irrigation, disease, and pest control.

It takes four weeks in the propagation unit before transportation to greenhouses at the height of about 15 centimetres. The farm’s horticulture expert Priscila Wairimu says soil is tested before the plants are transplanted.

At the greenhouses, constant moisture is maintained through regular irrigation.

Water for irrigating the farm is sourced from a borehole located adjacent to the greenhouses. Weeding is done by hands to avoid tempering with roots and this is done one week after planting. "Weeding has to be done to prevent pests and diseases with minimal use of chemicals. We use stick traps which are chemical-free,” she adds.

It takes about 45 days for chives to mature, after which, it is harvested after every 25 days for three years. During harvesting, she explains, disinfected knives are used to cut the leaves down to the base.

The produce is later graded and sorted. Wairimu reiterates that cleanness and quality of chives are highly maintained during the grading process. The chives are graded in three categories namely tallest, medium and shortest as per market prevalence.

After grading, they are weighed and packaged in boxes because of proper ventilation and maintenance of turgidity.

The boxes are later placed in cold rooms to maintain temperatures of between 0 and 4 degrees. The main market is Netherlands where it is sold at between Sh380 and Sh400 per kilo. 

“Good agricultural practices are key for the export market, I have had moments where my chives were rejected but we learn through the journey,” says Nuwamanya.

Officers from Kenya Plant health inspectorate Service (Kephis) and Horticultural Crops Development Authority visit the farm to share skills and knowledge on best farming practices. To maintain the quality, the farm works closely with agronomists who ensure the health isn’t compromised.

The experts also advice on the best farm inputs and where to buy them from.

“If you aren’t careful, you might fall victim to substandard inputs which compromise the whole production chain," she explains. 

Nuwamanya says she learnt about chives farming during her her line of duty as a business trainer. In February next year, Nuwamanya is planning to attend an expo in Berlin to explore to network and market her produce. 

“Chives has got high returns and ready market but one must be ready to do the hard work,” she adds. The farm is also used as a training site, over 100 farmers have been trained since she started the farm in February. 

“Chives farming is a highly productive venture despite it being labour intensive. My wish is to train more farmers,” she said.

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