Why coffee, tea are giving way for herbs in Kiambu


Chopped herbs for making bio-pesticides for armyworms. PHOTO | JOSEPH KANYI | NMG

Kiambu County has for long been associated with coffee and tea as the two major cash crops that have generated billions for the region in the yesteryears.

However, with the growing population and urbanisation, the available land for farming is shrinking, calling for innovative ways of farming in order to make a meaningful income.

As such, Samuel Nderitu County is now venturing into the growing of herbs and spices that have proved to be more lucrative than coffee and tea and require a smaller piece of land.

Mr Nderitu, who is the director of Grow Biointensive Agriculture Center of Kenya (GBIACK), a firm that not only grows these herbs but also does value addition.

Mr Nderitu says returns from a quarter of an acre of herbs are more than what a farmer can get from 3.5 acres of coffee.

“From a quarter of an acre of herbs, I make Sh240,000 a month. This is more than what a coffee farmer would make,” said Mr Nderitu who has a shop that sells the products coming out of his farm.

Mr Nderitu grows over 20 herbs and spices on his farm including chia, basil, fennel, thyme, rosemary, tarragon, mint and oregano.

GBIACK initiatives aim at eradicating poverty and improving the living standards of resource-poor communities by promoting ecologically viable development strategies for sustainable and quality livelihoods.

As the Covid-19 pandemic disrupted most businesses reducing sales and profits margins, herbs and spices farmers in Kiambu counted that as a blessing since it grew demand and prices as the majority of Kenyans sought it to boost their immunity.

“The Covid-19 pandemic saw demand for herbs increase as it was believed that their consumption boosted immunity, the orders were overwhelming,” he said.

The growers argue that with current pressure on land that has led to subdivisions, they are able to cultivate herbs and spices in small pieces of land and still get enough yield to sustain their livelihoods.

In an acre of land, one can produce up to 1.2 tonnes of herbs which is enough to give back good returns to the farmer.

Those diagnosed with lifestyle diseases are the key market for the farmers as their daily diet requires a certain type of herb to tackle a given condition.

Herbs farmers in the Kiambu region have partnered with organic promoting organisations such as Participatory Ecological Land Use Management (Pelum), which has secured more market for the herbs and helped them increase their returns.

Pelum builds the capacity of members and partners to respond appropriately to community needs as they work to empower the groups they work with. It also lobbies (directly) for change and formulation of policies in favor of Small scale farmers.

The G-BIACK center sits on one acre of land and is designed as a model farm for small-scale holders. The center has over 160 double-dug beds, all planted with different types of food crops that are organically grown.

There are also chickens, rabbits, dairy goats and an apiary on the model farm. GBIACK center trains small-scale farmers on sustainable ways and methods of increased food production both at the site and through outreach to communities.

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