As of November 1st 2011, the phrase ‘vegetable farming ‘ had 106,000,000 results on Google. In the various markets that dot Nairobi, a casual observer will note the high turnover of fruits and vegetables. When one reflects deeper on these vegetables , a few questions come to mind:
1. Where do these vegetables come from?
2. What are the prices of these vegetables (wholesale and retail) ?
3. When are these vegetables in season?
4. What are the most popular vegetables?
5. How are the vegetables grown?
Vegetables are grown mainly in rural areas.Different vegetables are grown in different places depending on various factors. Let us take onions as an example. Onions require plenty of sunlight ranging from 12 to 15 hours depending on the variety . They thrive in soils that are loose and well aerated with high fertility and are sensitive to highly acidic soils. When onions are young, they are grown with mulch . This helps in making the soil firm. Mulch also guards against weeds and water retention.
Wholesale prices for different commodities can be found on the website belonging to the Ministry of Agriculture. However,retail prices depend on the market that the buyer frequents. Environmental factors also come into the equation, for example , an acute shortage of maize may lead to consumers forking out up to 75 percent more than the wholesale price. This may be because of slow response by the government to the reality on the ground. Applications such as M-Farm not only allow farmers to get market information but buy inputs and connect with buyers.
It is important to know when vegetables are in season. As a farmer, one gets the best price when the crops that he sells are scarce. Leafy vegetables such as kales (sukuma wiki ) and cabbage are scarce during the dry season. Tomatoes are out of season during long and short rains so demand is high.
The most popular foods include kales,cabbage,cassavas and potatoes. Growing these crops is advisable because they will provide a source of steady income. This should not stop farmers from growing rarer vegetables like courgettes. These alternatives to the staple crops are priced higher. This is because the consumers generally have relatively higher income.
Vegetables require different conditions and levels of attention. One should do research on what crops to grow. Information can be found through the Ministry of Agriculture as well as various blogs and research papers on the Internet. Seeds can be found at outlets such as Kenya Seed Company and the East Africa Seed Company.