Small scale onion farming in Kenya is gaining popularity. It is also becoming popular because it is affordable to start and its returns are high
Onion farming in Kenya can be done in greenhouses and open gardens. The most commonly used onion is the bulb onion. It is locally consumed and available from roadside sellers to supermarkets.
Onion Farming in Kenya: Before you Start
A few things to know about onion farming in Kenya would include price, market availability and variety to plant.
A hectare of red creole onions would ideally produce 17 tons. Average market prices for a kilo of onions are at around 50 KS. This means that one would make at least 850,000 KS from the harvest. The cost for planting the one hectare is around 100,000 KS.
The onions take five months from planting to harvest. Currently most Kenyan farmers average 3 tons of per month from small scale onion farming. The yield can be double by simply cutting extra effort and using appropriate methods and doing proper research on onion farming.
Onion Farming in Kenya: Planting
You can grow onions using transplants, seeds or sets. Transplants are seedlings that usually are started in the growing season; they usually form good bulbs within a short time 60 days or less.
Sets are bulbs that are not yet mature from the previous season. They are very easy to plant, harvest and are quite resistant to diseases. The only downside they have is they may bolt (shoot up a flower stalk prematurely)
If you plant onion sets, the sets may be identified only as white, red, or yellow, rather than by variety name. Most growers prefer white sets for green onions. Growing onions from seed offers one a wide variety of choice. The only disadvantage is that you have to wait up to 5 months for the onions to mature.
Onion Farming in Kenya: Watering
In onion farming in Kenya where climatic conditions vary it is important to consider watering. Very dry conditions cause bulbs to split. It is a good practice to water them moderately weekly. Onions do not do well with weeds and it is a good practice to do weeding.
You can use a sprinkler or pipe to water your onions. A good time to water them is early in the morning. If you water them in the heat of the day a lot of water is lost to evaporation. A good practice when watering the onions is to avoid watering them from above in the evening as moisture settling on leaves easily cause diseases.
Onion Farming in Kenya: Harvesting
Knowing when your onions are ready to harvest is not hard. Their leaves will lose color, weaken at the top of the bulb and hang low. There is nothing wrong with that it just shows that they have stopped growing. Onion farming is at its last stage, harvesting.
Let most of your onion tops fall over by them – maybe 80% or 90% of them – then bend over the rest of the tops. Once they’re down, leave the bulbs in the ground for another 10 days to two weeks to mature fully. It’s not good to leave the onions in the ground for longer than two weeks after the tops die because they become open to organisms that can cause rot in storage, or they might even start growing again.
Onion farming in Kenya
Let most of your onion tops fall of naturally. Once this has happened let them stay in the ground for another 10 to 12 days to allow them to fully mature. Do not let them stay in the ground for more than 14 days, they may be exposed to diseases. Harvest on a sunny day this allows for the roots to dry and die.
Picking a good day to harvest in onion farming will determine how well the onions will keep. If you harvest them in moist conditions they won’t dry out so well. Remember they have a shelf life of up to 4 to 6 weeks
Onion Farming in Kenya – Earn Ksh. 800,000 from one acre of Onions in 3 months
When you want to cook Managu what do you use? Onions. When you want to cook meat, what do you use? Onions! Nearly every meal of the average Kenyan has to have onions as part of the ingredients.
This tells you something about the market out there. There is a high demand for onions! Here is how you can tap into that demand and make a profit from it.
In 3 months an acre of Hybrid bulb onions will give you an income of Ksh 800,000. After 3 months of transplanting the onions it can produce a yield of 20,000 Kgs bulbs.
1 Kg of Onions at market price goes @ Ksh 40 i.e 20,000 Kgs × 40 Shillings = Ksh 800,000 minus average cost of production which is Ksh150, 000 per Acre = Ksh 650, 000 Net income (Cool stuff right?).
High yielding varieties in Kenya today include, Jambar F1, Red Pinoy F1, Red Comet F1, Red passion F1.
Onion Farming in Kenya – How to Plant:
To get the best results with onions you need to start them in a Nusery. Here is how to do this;
- Make a raised nursery bed 1 metre wide and any desired length.
- Apply well decomposed manure at a rate of 15kg per square metre.
- Mix and Apply DAP fertilizer at a rate of 20 grams per metre square
- Make shallow furrows 15 cm apart. Mix the seeds with dry ash, sand or soil at a ratio of 1:3 to help spread the small seeds.
- Plant the seeds and cover lightly with soil and apply mulches ( Grass or Polythene cover spread over the soil on the nursery bed)
- After planting irrigate the nursery bed liberally for the first 10 days and continue watering regularly.
- Germination of seeds will take about 7-10 days after which the mulches are removed and used to make a shade above the tender plants which have not fully developed.
- Transplanting of the seedlings takes place 6 weeks after planting seeds in the nursery. Transplant when the seedlings have pencil thick base and a height of approximately 15cm.
- Seedlings should have 3 to 5 well formed leaves at transplanting time. Two weeks before transplanting reduce the shade to improve seedling survival rate in the field.
- It takes about 4 months for onions to mature
Onion farming in Kenya can be done in greenhouses and open gardens.
Before you begin onion farming you need to check and confirm Market availability, Price of the onions and the variety of the plant.
Onion Farming in Kenya – Video
Onion Farming in Kenya – News
Onion Farming in Kenya – A to Z
Before you get tempted to engage in onion farming, do your homework well and learn from the masters who are already in the agribusiness. However, here is information to give you a head start.
The land should be more or less flat and have access to irrigation water. The soil should be light and well-draining. It must be free of aggressive weeds like couch grass and should also be in full sun.
Have the soil tested to make informed decisions on your soil fertility management decisions. Onions need a pH of 6 to 6.8. If the pH is below 6, apply calcitic lime at the rate recommended by your soil test results.
Prepare the land about a month before and incorporate about three tonnes of chicken manure. Loosen the soil deeply and prepare the land to a fine tilth.
Start with a small seedbed, which can either be raised if water is not a problem or sunk to capture more water. Prepare it 4ft wide with eight rows 10 to 15cm apart. Make 1cm deep furrows along the rows.
Per acre you will need about 1kg of seeds. Mix them with the same amount of sand. Fill the furrows evenly with the sand-seed mix.
Onion Farming in Kenya – Keep Watering
Cover with high quality fine compost and water thoroughly. Keep watering several times per day until the rows of onions have emerged. The seedlings remain in the seedbed for eight to 10 weeks and daily watering is important.
After four weeks, apply liquid fertiliser made from stinging nettle. As soon as seedlings have emerged, keep applying a layer of compost as a mulch to suppress weeds, and keep the soil moist and protected from heavy rains.
Onions are generally long-day plants, which means, they need days with more than 12 hours of daylight. Therefore, only varieties with lower day-length needs can be grown in Kenya.
Popular varieties are Jambar F1 (for size and high yield) or Red Passion F1, Bombay Red and Red Pinoy (they have a lower yield but are in high demand at the market and fetch a high price than Jambar F1).
Onions need around four months to mature. The last three weeks before harvest, the weather should be absolutely rain-free. So plan to start your nursery according to your dry season and count back four-and-a-half months. To harvest end of December, start your seedbeds mid-August.
Transplant when your seedlings have gained the size of a pencil and show four to five leaves. Prior to transplanting, water the seedbeds heavily until they are saturated to avoid damage to the seedlings.
To help your seedlings recover quickly after transplanting, prepare a liquid fertiliser from comfrey leaves, which contain Vitamin B12. Mix it with some soil and fresh cow manure until it forms a kind of sludge.
Pull up your seedlings from the wet seedbed carefully. Dip them in the manure-comfrey mix so that the roots are covered in it. Bunch about 50 seedlings together and cut off 50 per cent of the green tops. Transport them to the field and transplant as soon as possible. You will end up with about 200,000 seedlings per acre.
Irrigate the field well the day before transplanting and plant in rows one foot apart and leave 8cm space between plants within the row. If you plant onions too closely, bulb size will reduce.
Ideally, you should fix a drip irrigation system with 4cm emitter spacing between the rows. Irrigation is needed at a rate of 3 to 5mm per day, but you need to monitor to avoid waterlogging. The field should then be covered with plastic mulching between the rows to avoid moisture losses and to suppress weeds.
If possible, overhead watering should be avoided as it promotes fungal diseases. If no plastic mulch is used, mulching should be done with organic matter and weeds need to be removed regularly by pulling up by hand in the rows and careful hoeing between the rows. Hoeing will also break the soil’s surface and help prevent moisture losses. But care should be taken not to damage the onions.
In case your onions get affected by rust, use this homemade remedy: Soak 1kg of pounded pawpaw leaves in a litre of water for six hours. Strain it through a cloth and add two tablespoons of liquid soap. Add five litres of water and spray every three days in the later afternoon.
Onion Farming in Kenya – Fungal Diseases
Onion thrips might be a problem. The leaves will turn silverish and dry. Boil a cup of chopped rhubarb leaves in six cups of water. Leave to cool, add some liquid soap, strain and spray. But be careful, this concoction is poisonous.
If mildew or other fungal diseases become a problem, spray with copper. On soils with boron deficiency, a foliar feed with 20g boric acid per acre is necessary. Sulphur or calcium deficiencies also need to be addressed if shown by a soil test.
Usually, onions are harvested when the tops turn down and start to dry. Short day varieties, however, don’t mature uniformly so they are usually lifted when 50 per cent of the tops are down and have dried.
Bunch the onions together and hang them up in an airy space for about a week until all the outer leaves are nicely dried and the bulbs can be easily be pulled from the bunches.
Cutting tops off will reduce storage qualities and promote rot. Well matured and dried onions have a shelf-life of at least six weeks and sell at Sh50 per kilo.
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