Onion farming in Kenya
According to the 2014 report by the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), approximately half of the red onions in Kenya are imported from Tanzania. Kenyan farmers have been making efforts to meet the demand and reduce this dependency, but there is still a need for increased local supply. Consequently, investing in the cultivation of Red Bulb Onions has become highly attractive in the Kenyan market.
In Kenya, the main types of onions grown are bulb onions and spring onions. The most suitable regions for onion farming include Karatina, Oloitoktok, Naivasha, Kieni, Emali, and Mai Mahiu.
Bulb onions typically require 3 to 4 months to reach maturity. The period of short rains, between January and February, is ideal for harvesting bulb onions as there is a low supply of onions from Tanzania during this time. Local farmers can benefit from this window and achieve higher profits. However, after the long rains in March, the price of onions increases, providing another opportunity for farmers to generate good profit margins.
Spring onions, on the other hand, are easy to cultivate and can even be grown in a kitchen garden. They are commonly used in vegetable salads or as a seasoning in soups. Spring onions offer various health benefits, such as reducing blood sugar levels and decreasing blood pressure and cholesterol levels.
Among the two types, bulb onions are more popular due to their extended shelf life and sweet taste. Currently, two different varieties of bulb onions are available in the market. The first is a small, thin, and tightly layered onion with a strong pungent smell, which is imported from Tanzania. The second variety is a larger onion with looser layers, locally grown in Kenya.
Conditions for Onion Farming
Onions thrive in well-drained, fertile, sandy loam soils that are not compacted. The optimal pH range for onion cultivation is 5.8 to 6.8. One of the advantages of onion farming is that it can be done year-round through irrigation. It is recommended to conduct a soil test with accredited laboratories for proper guidance.
Onions can grow in a wide range of temperatures, ideally between 13 to 35 degrees Celsius, making it suitable for most parts of Kenya. However, to achieve maximum production in areas like Ukambani and certain coastal regions, investing in a greenhouse and drip irrigation is advisable. Greenhouses help optimize temperatures in hot regions, while irrigation ensures an adequate water supply. Onions are considered a cool season crop, and many areas in Ukambani and the Coastal region are known for their aridity.
In addition to land, which is a fundamental requirement, other necessities for onion farming include DAP fertilizer and seedlings. Approximately 1 kilogram of seedlings can be used per acre, while 20 grams of DAP fertilizer is applied per square meter.
It’s important to note that different seed varieties perform differently depending on the conditions. Some common hybrid varieties available in Kenya are Red Coach F1 and Malbec F1. Among these, the Red Coach F1 is the most popular in Kenya due to its high yield and the desirable size and color of its onions, which are well-suited for the local market.
Challenges facing Onion Farming in Kenya
Excessive Rainfall or Watering: Excessive rainfall or overwatering can lead to waterlogging of the onion crop. If your area experiences heavy rainfall, it is advisable to focus on growing the crop during the short rains. Raising the beds can also help ensure proper drainage of water from the field. It is important to avoid excessive watering of your onions. Drip irrigation is the most suitable method for irrigating onions, while overhead irrigation should be avoided as it can contribute to the development of fungal diseases.
Diseases: Onions are susceptible to various diseases, including Downy Mildew, Bacterial Soft Rots, Pink/White Root, Botrytis, and Rusts. To combat these diseases, it is recommended to use high-quality fungicides available at moibenconnections.com.
Pests: Common pests that pose a threat to onions include maggots, thrips, nematodes, and leaf miners. To effectively manage these pests, it is advisable to utilize reliable pesticides from moibenconnections.com
Weeds: Weed control is a significant challenge in onion farming. To tackle weeds, apply Commander 240EC from moibenconnections.com approximately 10-14 days after transplanting your onions. This will help eliminate both grass and broadleaf weeds until the harvest period.
Optimal timing for harvesting onions is during the dry season. It is crucial to maintain a calendar and accurately record important dates to ensure that you harvest at the appropriate time. For bulb onions, they are ready to be harvested when a shiny membranous cover forms around the bulbs or when the foliage starts to wither. On the other hand, spring onions are ready for harvesting when they reach a height of 15 centimeters and have a thickness of 1.5 centimeters.
To harvest onions, gently pull the bulbs out of the ground, and then proceed to remove the leaves by cutting them off. After harvesting, it is necessary to dry the bulbs in the sunlight before storing the produce.