Vihiga farmers minting money from African leafy vegetables

Sagaa(Saget) vegetables. [David Gichuru, Standard]

Christopher Angote, 48, from Munungo village in Emuhaya Constituency, spent eight years as a teacher, shaping young minds before he embarked on a journey into commercial farming.

“A teacher employed by the Board of Management used to receive Sh3,000 a month, but for my case, I used to earn Sh12,000 in the early 1990s as a performer,” Angote shared.

Angote said ‘I used to see my colleagues go for loans but for me, I decided not to for the loans to venture in agriculture’, adding, ‘for me, I didn’t have land and there was no way, I could develop myself I continued being a teacher’.

With unwavering determination, Angote threw himself into the world of commercial farming. But he didn’t choose just any crop; he set his sights on African leafy vegetables (ALVs), a staple in local cuisine yet often overlooked in the commercial farming sector.

The father of four armed with knowledge gleaned from books and seasoned farmers, Angote began his venture at a 0.4-hectare piece of land.

As the years passed, Angote’s farm flourished. His African leafy vegetables such as found their way into markets far and wide, gracing dinner tables with their vibrant hues and rich flavors 

A cowpiece and saga plantation. [Brian Kisanji, Standard]

The priority species at his farm include African nightshades (Solanum scabrum), leafy amaranth (Amaranthus spp.), spider plant (Cleome gynandra), cowpeas (Vigna unguiculata), Ethiopian kale (Brassica carinata), mitoo (Crotolaria brevidens), Jute plant (Corchorus olitorius) and pumpkin leaves (Cucurbita maxima).

“I have over 35 acres of land under agriculture, out of which 10.5 acres of land is mine that I bought from the proceeds of selling vegetables and 24.5 acres is leased. I also have 32 dairy cows that I acquired from the venture,” said Angote

He went on: “The market from African leafy vegetables is very big. I sell it locally to vegetable vendors who take it to major towns in the country. I make between Sh15,000 – Sh25,000 per day through the year from selling vegetables,”

During dry seasons, Angote said ‘that’s when I make good money because of irrigation’, saying ‘at the time, other farmers don’t have what to sell and to fill the gap, they too become my clients. 

And today, his farm is used to host farmers’ field days by the County Government of Vihiga, educational tours and offering industrial attachment to students from local universities in the country. 

Vihiga Governor Wilber Ottichilo (third right) listens to his CECM in charge of Agriculture Dr Nicholas Kitungulu (right) during an inspection tour at Wemilabi Irrigation scheme for African Leafy Vegetables flanked by visiting farmer. [Nathan Ochunge, Standard]

Wycliffe Ngoda, 70, from Kegoye village in Vihiga constituency is another farmer who grows African Leafy Vegetables for the last 10 years.

“My all adult life has been in agriculture which I learnt when I was a member of 4k club when I was schooling,” said Mr Ngoda, adding ‘I make between Sh3000 – Sh10, 000 per day which is depended on the season’.

“Prices of vegetables in Vihiga is higher like in any other town and during the months of December, January, February, July and early August, it’s when we make abnormal profits when the area experiences short stints of dry seasons,” said Mr Ngoda

He went on: “We sell a 90-kilo bag of pumpkin leaves at Sh8,000, mitoo, kunde, nderema, suja, mrenda and kanzira goes at Sh5,000,”

According to Reuben Chumba, the County Director of Agriculture, the two are among 105,000 farmers in Vihiga who are growing ALV’s for commercial purposes, the leading value chain the county is promoting.

“Vihiga ALVs have increasingly become important commercially in major urban centres of Kenya over the last 15 years where they have increasingly featured in both formal and informal markets. Supermarkets like Naivas and Carrefour and Nairobi’s open markets respectively sell vegetables from Vihiga,” said Mr Chumba

Mr Chumba told Smart Harvest that African leafy vegetables from the county are found in Nairobi city open air markets like Kangemi, Muthurwa and Wakulima.

According to Nicholas Kitungulu, the County Executive Committee Member in charge of Agriculture, African leafy vegetables are important source of income for smallholder farmers, who often account for more than 80 per cent of the output.

“The Estimated turn over from African leafy vegetables in the county averages six tonnes per acre per year producing 600 metric tonnes valued Sh3 billion per growing season to benefit small holder farmers and other value chain actors,” said Kitungu

He went on: “Majority of the farmers have at least half an acre piece of land and they sell on average Sh2,000 to Sh10, 000 per day depending on the size of the farm. The highest recorded output is in Emuhaya for a farmer who sells on average about Sh25, 000 per day during peak season,”

Dr Betty Mulianga, the Chief Officer in charge of Agriculture said ‘the farmers sell 500 grams of dried Sagaa at Sh1200, Amaranth at Sh1,000, Managu ,Sh1,000, Mitoo (Rattle Pod) Sh800, Mrenda (Jute mallow) Sh800 and Kunde (cowpeas) Sh700.

“The Kenyan diaspora crave the vegetables from Vihiga because most of them, especially the bitter ones, have medicinal value. In at least 100 grams of ALVs there is over 100 per cent of the recommended daily requirement for an adult for calcium, iron, vitamins A and C, and 40 per cent for the proteins,” said Dr Mulianga 

A cake baked from Amaranth flour. [Nathan Ochunge, Standard]

Dr Mulianga said they are developing innovative ways that will enable the farmers make crackles, crisps, cakes, bread doughnuts and cookies from African leafy vegetables.

“We will have an agricultural exhibition next week at Hamisi stadium from where we want to teach the farmers how to get improved earnings by embracing value addition through mass production of cakes and bread from vegetables, that is a complete balanced diet and nutritious option to the other wheat cake,” said Dr Mulianga

Dr Wilber Ottichilo’s administration has been promoting African Leafy Vegetables as one of their main value chain since 2017.

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