It is a busy day at Joseph Muchiri’s Subukia farm on the day of the visit. The farmer specialises in French beans for export.
“Business is good. But it has not always been like this...,” he says.
Muchiri is one of the farmers seeking new fortunes in French beans farming. For decades, farmers in the area, including Muchiri had known nothing but tomato farming.
However, due to frustrations experienced in farming the crop, they shifted to something else that would give them better returns.
“I had been growing tomatoes since 2004 but after a disappointing stint as a tomato farmer due to fluctuation of prices, an unsteady market, diseases and a longer period it takes for the crop to mature, I decided to try out French beans,” says Muchiri.
He embarked on French beans farming in 2016 having heard about its lucrative export market. French beans (mishiris) are one of the crops dominating Kenya’s export market with a low local consumption rate.
The crop thrives in warm areas with the common varieties in the Kenyan market being Amy, Teresa, Samantha, Serengeti Julia and Paulista.
In the few years Muchiri has farmed the crop, he can attest to the fact that it has great potential.
“When I started growing French beans, I thought it’s just another variety of beans hence I didn’t give it much seriousness.
However, after growing it for a year, I realised the great potential the crop has in terms of profit,” he says.
So how did he tap into the export market? Muchiri says he was approached by an agronomist from Frigoken company who interested him in the idea.
After wide consultations and research, he decided to go into French beans farming since there was a ready market and he would be supplied with the seeds. He grows the Organdi variety.
“I started with an eighth of an acre of land and I am approaching the 10-acres mark. I grow the crop in 2 seasons, from March to May and from May to December. After planting, it takes about 55 days before I start harvesting,” he says.
Growing these beans requires a lot of dedication and capital especially if you are targeting the high season.
There are four major stages which are highly sensitive in the growing process; germination, flowering, fruiting and lastly harvesting.
“It is now about three years since I started growing French beans for export and I am now keen on them and hope to achieve a target of harvesting 40 tonnes in one season by the end of this year,” says Muchiri.
“The market price is controlled by the company for the export. From farm level I sell one kilo of French beans at Sh50 in and off season.”
Despite his progress, Muchiri says he has had to put up with a number of challenges including poor road network, which affects the time the product lands in the market.
Lack of enough water for irrigation during the dry season is also a problem. Despite the odds, he can’t complain.
“While tomatoes would take about four months to mature, French beans only take about two months. On the other hand, it is not costly to maintain the crop like tomatoes which require one to spray the crop often to mature well,” he says.
Joseph Maina Mwangi, a Technical Assistant at Frigoken Company says French beans is not a complicated crop to grow.
He says all one needs to do for a better harvest is to prepare and till the land two months before the rains start. The crop grows very well during the rainy season.
“The furrows also need to be properly prepared, with the distance from one furrow to the next being two feet. During planting, farmers are advised to use DAP fertiliser. The spacing needs to be 4 to 6 inches seed to seed,” says Mwangi.
“After ten days, a farmer will be required to carry out the first top dressing and after 25 days the second top dressing will be done using NPK fertiliser. The first spray is applied 10 days after planting, which is when the crop starts to sprout. The lifespan of French beans requires only four sprays and the fifth one is done in case there is an emergency like when the crop is infested with pests or diseases,” he adds.