Fresh harvested onions. Onions can escape the pangs of drought given that they are ready for harvest in four months. Photo gallery.
To increase her income to beat the rising cost of living, Royal Mabati employee Mercy Kemunto has delved into four-month-maturing onions, abandoning maize crop- which takes almost double time to harvest.
The Nakuru farmer opted for onions given that they are less prone to pests like aphids. Onions produce a pungent smell that repels some pests. Actually, some farmers grow it around other vulnerable vegetables as a pest defender.
“Maize is the preferred ‘meal’ of the fall armyworms. The pest has destroyed most of the maize in Kenya, with the Rift Valley and Western parts being the most affected. Onions are less at risk,” she said.
Kemunto, who works as the sales person of the company, said drought has also affected maize production in the past. It takes between six to eight months to plant and harvest maize. But onions can escape the pangs of drought given that they are ready for harvest in four months.
Having acquired an irrigation kit, she says, the production cycle in a year can be two or three, with short season crops unlike maize. With an initial capital of Sh35, 000, she sourced sets from a renowned onion seedling supplier in Nakuru.
In February, this year, Kemunto started preparing her farm by ploughing and adding manure. Since she had a readily available water tank and pipes, her work was cut out.
One of the three acres initially set aside for maize was chopped off for onions.
“My plan is to shift slowly from overreliance on rain-fed agriculture to irrigation. Rains are unreliable now” says Kemunto.
Maize planting is no longer profitable in the wake of importation from other countries like Mexico and South Africa at cheaper costs. Head smuts have also ravaged the crop.
In April, Kemunto planted her onion sets on her one acre farm 10cm by 15cm apart. According to the advice she got from Kilimo Bora, a farmers’ Whatsapp group, she learnt that onions thrive well in firm soil.
Mercy used drip irrigation to water the onions and this was beneficial as this method it saves water and discourages foliar diseases.
She used NPK fertilizer on her onions to provide all the necessary nutrients required for the development of bulbs. NPK fertilizers are rich in nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium which are useful in the development of bulbs for onions. Kemunto used two 50 kg bags NPK fertilizer per acre with each bag costing her Ksh. 3200. She applied mulching by using grass clippings to control weeds and preserve water on the soil.
Her purple onions will be ready for sale in early August. Mercy will work with established agribusiness farmers to identify and market her produce to various hotels in Nakuru, Nairobi and the surrounding towns. She expects to harvest about three to four tonnes from her one acre farm which she will sell at 900 shillings per 13 kg net (the price is according to Soko +, a digital commodity trading and information system, linking small scale farmers to end retailers/bulk purchasers of produce)