Drop in onion imports from Tanzania spells fortune for farmers

Naomi Muthoni sells onions at Wiyumiririe Trading Centre in Ngobit, Laikipia. Prices of the commodity have risen as demand outstrips supply. [File, Standard]

The price of onions has skyrocketed in the last two months, with farmers in Nyeri selling their produce for as much as Sh100 per kilo at the farm gate, and consumers paying as much as Sh150 for this in local markets.

Onions, which are usually harvested between May and November, have been affected by border restrictions with Tanzania, where a majority of the imports are sourced. 

Daniel Gakuo, an onion farmer from Kieni, said the price of the commodity was likely to remain high as demand outstrips supply with the slowdown in imports from Tanzania.

However, the farmers are experiencing losses due to the ongoing rains, making it more difficult to cure the onions. 

“The most affected onions are the red bulb types because they require high heat to cure, failure to which they rot,” said Mr Gakuo.

He added that many farmers lacked the capacity to cure their produce indoors due to the cost implications. 

“Usually in the month of May till June, local farmers are planting while the local market is fed by imports from Tanzania," Gakuo said.

"But due to the coronavirus pandemic and the border restrictions Kenya has with Tanzania, there is a low supply of onions in the market from our neighbours."

But Mercy Kimaru, an onion farmer in Mweiga, said she has had a good month.

"Previously I would sell my onions for as little as Sh30 for a kilo, but this year I have sold each kilo at a minimum of Sh90 at the farm gate,” she said. 

Her two-acre farm of onions produced 50,000kgs of onions, which she cured in a greenhouse. The cost of production per acre was Sh16 per kg, she said.

Trading station

Kung'u Mwangi, a trader at Kiawara, a key trading stations for Kieni onions, said he was seeing an increase in demand, but supplies remain low.

“Most traders rely on middlemen, a majority of whom source their onions from Tanzania. But with the current situation, the only source of onions is from local farmers who lack the capacity to meet demand,” Mr Mwangi said. 

He noted that while farmers have increased the prices of the commodity, most of the produce they were selling was not well cured, leading to losses on the wholesalers' side.

“If I buy a kilo of onions for Sh90 from the farmer, I incur the cost of transport to the trading centre and this means I sell the onions for Sh120. This is a cost that I transfer to the customer,” he said. 

With the curfew reducing the amount of time available to trade, most merchants are incurring losses from holding on to onions that were not properly cured.

Most of the harvest rots in stalls and is disposed of.

“If the onion bulbs are not dry, they will rot from the inside and with the heavy rains you cannot cure them at the market, so most end up as waste,” Mwangi said. 

Regina Muthoni, a Nyeri resident, said the price of onions had become too high for her, so she had opted to use spring onions, which are cheaper and readily available.

“I cannot spend Sh150 on a kilo of red onions. My budget is tight and with the current economic situation caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, I must cut costs, so I've opted for spring onions which cost Sh30 for several stalks,” Ms Muthoni said.

Want to get latest farming tips and videos?
Join Us