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By Wycliffe Cotiak
Onion farming is arguably the most profitable agribusiness venture of our time and it is slowly gaining traction across the country.
Interestingly, did you know that you can earn up to Sh800, 000 from this……….crop in an acre of land in just four months with good agricultural practices?
Almost half of red onions consumed in Kenya are imported from our neighbouring country-Tanzania. This only means there is a yawning gap to be filled by onion farmers in the country. Why don’t you form part of this onion gravy train?
Last year alone protests rocked little known Kiawara market in Nyeri County, when local traders protested against their colleagues selling cheap, and imported onions from Tanzania.
But this was not an isolated case. Imported onions from Tanzania have long found their way into Kenyan markets and are albeit hot cake among customers.
Even as Kenyan traders and farmers cry foul; one thing is for sure; onions from the neighbouring country are well cured making them last longer even though they are of smaller sizes.
The Swahili nation also enjoys lower cost of production as compared to her neighbours like Kenya. Several traders at Wakulima and Gikomba open air markets interviewed confirmed their customers’ appetite for Tanzanian onions.
There are two types of onions that deliver high production in Kenya; bulb onions and spring onions.But, there are a few things a farmer needs to know in order to run a successful onion farming venture.
Farmers are advised to do a little research on what varieties do well in their geographical location, how to plant it, how to access inputs, pricing and market availability.
Onions do well in well-drained fertile soils rich in humus with the pH ranging from 5.8-6.5.Jambar F1, Islero, Red creole, Passion and Pinnoy are some of the common varieties grown in Kenya. Red creole onions are quite popular in Kenya.
The best-suited areas for onion farming in Kenya include Emali, Oloitoktok, Karatina, Kieni, Naivasha, Namanga, Mai Mahiu and other cool wet areas with well-drained sand loamy soil.
In Kenya, though we produce large size onions, farmers have always neglected the curing process. Curing involves removal of the tops and then covering the bulbs to protect them from excessive heat from the sun or any form of moisture.
And for farmers lured by quick-riches who no longer pays attention to the curing process the effects boomerang on them when they come to terms with post-harvest losses.
Below are few steps in harvesting bulb, green and sweet onions. Harvest bulb onions when they reach full size-about 90 to 100 days after sowing. Remember to harvest the leafy tops of green onions any time after the plant has grown six inches tall.
As expected most of smallholder farmers do not understand how to cure their bulb onions for storage. As part of the post-harvest loss measures, storage of onions is also critical.
Always make sure the bulb onions are cured before they are stored.
For bulb onions, they should be stored in a cool, dry, well-ventilated place. Store the bulb onions in a hanging mesh bag if possible. Well cured onion can be stored for 5 to 8 months.
However, for sweet slicing varieties such as Texas Supersweet, which do not store well-it should be used in a few weeks.