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Growing lemongrass that helps manage stress

Smart Harvest
 

Cymbopogon, better known as lemongrass is a genus of Asian, African, Australian, and tropical island plants in the grass family [iStockphoto]

Lemongrass farming in Kenya has gained significant popularity in Kenya due to the growing its aromatic and medicinal properties. Lemon grass (Cymbopogon citratus) is a versatile herb known for its refreshing lemony fragrance and various culinary, medicinal, and industrial uses. David Omuga has set aside about an eighth of his farm in Gem, Siaya County, to grow lemon grass. He gets orders from people in the beauty industry and herbal tea sellers.

“Spice manufacturers, herbal tea companies, and food processors are the main target for this crop. Lemongrass is a highly valuable crop due to its multiple uses. In Kenya, lemongrass is commonly used in the production of herbal tea, essential oils, and as a spice in food preparation,” said Omuga.

He added: “The essential oil derived from lemongrass is highly sought after in the beauty and skincare industry due to its numerous benefits, such as its antibacterial, antifungal, and anti-inflammatory properties.”

He says, as other crops, lemon grass farming has preferences with regards to soil, irrigation and fertiliser that should be adhered to. Ecological conditions: Lemongrass requires warm temperatures and high humidity to grow well. The ideal temperature range for lemongrass is between 20 and 35 degrees celcius. High humidity levels, ranging from 70 to 85 per cent, are also necessary for the crop to thrive.

“Regions with warm and humid climates, such as the coastal and western regions of Kenya, are ideal for lemongrass farming,” said Omuga.

Soil

Lemongrass requires well-draining soils that are rich in organic matter. The soil pH should be between 5.5 and 7.5. The ideal soil type for lemongrass farming is sandy loam, which allows for adequate drainage and aeration.

“It is also important to note that lemongrass is sensitive to waterlogging and cannot tolerate acidic soils. Farmers should ensure that the soil is well-prepared and enriched with organic matter before planting lemongrass,” Omuga said.

Propagation

For better quality and yield, it is recommended to grow lemongrass by slips obtained by dividing well-grown clumps. Tops of clumps should be cut off within 20 to 25 cm of the root. The latter should be divided into slips and the lower brown sheath should be removed to expose young roots. Propagation can be done by seed as well.

Irrigation 

Lemongrass requires regular watering to ensure that the soil remains moist. The crop is sensitive to waterlogging, so farmers should ensure that the soil is well-draining to prevent waterlogging. The amount of water required depends on the stage of growth and the prevailing weather conditions. During the dry season, farmers may need to supplement their irrigation to ensure that the crop receives adequate water.

Fertiliser

Lemongrass requires adequate nutrients to grow well. Before planting lemongrass, farmers should conduct a soil test to determine the nutrient deficiencies. Based on the results, farmers can apply the appropriate fertiliser to ensure that the crop receives adequate nutrients. Organic fertilizers, such as compost and manure, are ideal for lemongrass farming as they improve soil fertility and structure. Pest and Disease Management: Lemongrass is susceptible to pests and diseases that can significantly reduce yield. Farmers should implement effective pest and disease management practices to ensure that the crop remains healthy. >> Continued to page 22

Common pests that attack lemongrass include aphids, grasshoppers, and mites. The crop is also prone to diseases such as leaf rust and fungal infections. Farmers can use natural pest control methods such as neem oil and garlic to manage pests, while fungicides can be used to control diseases.

Harvesting and Post-Harvest Handling

Lemongrass is ready for harvest six to eight months after planting. To harvest, cut the stalks of the lemongrass at the base using a sharp knife. Avoid cutting the leaves as they are not used in processing.

Drying

Sun dry the lemongrass stalks until they are completely dry. This can take up to a week, depending on the weather conditions.

Processing

Grind the dried lemongrass stalks into a fine powder using a mill or a mortar and pestle.

Packaging

Package the lemongrass powder in air-tight containers to maintain its quality and freshness.

Yield and market

According to Omuga, estimated yield range about 5,000 kilos per acre at the least and he sells Sh20 per kilogram.

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