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Tamarind: A versatile, silent money maker

Crop
 

Tamarind trees typically start bearing fruit within four to six years. [Courtesy]

Tamarind (Tamarindus indica) or ukwaju in Kiswahili is native to Africa but is adapted to a wide geographical distribution in semi-arid tropics.

The tamarind is such a versatile crop, it is a source of food (edible pulp, used for souring porridge, seasoning and flavouring), the leaves, twigs, bark, and roots provide medicine and fodder while flowers are good for bee forage, hence, honey production.

The tree also produces mulch and fixes nitrogen in the soil. It can reach a height of 25 metres and live for more than 300 years. In Kenya, it does well in regions such as Lamu, Kitui Machakos, Taita Taveta, and Kajiado.

Makau Mbua from Kitui has tamarind trees on his small farm. Apart from food Mbua says the tree can provide firewood, charcoal, timber, poles, and posts. Its wood can be easily carved into furniture, utensils (pestles and mortars), and boats

Ecological conditions 

Tamarind trees thrive in hot tropical climates. They are well-suited to areas with a temperature range of 25 to 35 degrees Celsius. They can tolerate a wide range of rainfall conditions, but they generally prefer well-distributed rainfall throughout the year. Sandy loam and loamy soils are generally considered suitable for tamarind cultivation.

The soil should have a pH level between 6.0 and 7.5.

Propagation and planting

Tamarind can be propagated from stem cuttings, although this method is less common than seed propagation. For seed propagation, soak the seeds in water for about three to four days to soften the seed coat. Plant the seeds in seed trays or directly in the prepared soil.

“While planting consider the tree can go up to 25 metres, therefore give adequate spacing,” said Mbua. Plant the seeds about two to three centimetres deep and keep the soil consistently moist until the seeds germinate.

Support for young trees

Provide support for young trees to protect them from strong winds or other environmental stressors.

Watering 

Tamarind trees are relatively drought-tolerant once established, but they benefit from regular watering, especially during dry periods. 

Fertilisation

Tamarind trees benefit from regular fertilisation, especially in nutrient-poor soils. Organic matter or well-balanced fertiliser can be applied to promote healthy growth. Mbua prefers to use compost manure and organic fertilisers.

Pests and diseases

The tamarind tree is seldom affected by pests and diseases. Ripe fruit in humid climates is readily attacked by beetles and fungi, so mature fruit should be harvested and stored. The most serious pests of the tamarind are scale insects, mealy-bugs, and a borer (Pachymerus gonagra). 

Harvesting

Tamarind trees typically start bearing fruit within four to six years. Harvest the ripe pods when they turn brown and are easily plucked from the tree. Collect the pods regularly to prevent over-ripening and insect infestations. 

Yield and market

On average, a mature tamarind tree may produce anywhere from 150 to 500 kilogrammes of tamarind pods per year, depending on factors like climate, soil fertility, and cultural practices. The price per kilogramme may vary from Sh200 to Sh250 with production and demand.

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