Horticulture Farming in Kenya

Horticulture farming in Kenya refers to an intensive cultivation of vegetables, fruits and flowers for sale. At times the term has been confused with market gardening which is an intensive cultivation of vegetables and fruits for sale in the nearest urban centre.

Horticultural crops in Kenya include flowers, fruits, vegetables and potatoes. The horticulture sub-sector is one of the top foreign exchange earners for the country generating approximately US $ 1 billion annually. In 2015, the sub-sector contributed 1.45% to the national GDP while flower exports contributed 1.01% was from the flower industry. It has grown in significance to a vibrant flower industry worldwide. It also acts as an employer and contributor to food needs in the country.

Currently the horticulture industry is the fastest growing agricultural sub-sector and is ranked third in terms of foreign exchange earnings from exports after tourism and tea. Fruits, vegetable and cut flower production are the main aspects of horticultural production in Kenya.

Kenya has a long history of growing horticultural crops for both domestic and export markets. Kenya’s ideal tropical and temperate climatic condition makes it favourable for horticulture production and development.

About two million are employed in the sub-sector, most of them small-scale growers who constitute 80 per cent of producers.  This alleviates poverty and provides higher incomes to small scale farmers.

Horticulture farmers in Kenya earned Kshs 3 billion more from exports in the first half of 2013 compared to the first six months of 2012. Production of cut flowers, fruits and vegetables for export went up from a cumulative 99,700 metric tonnes in the first half of 2012 to 111,892 metric tonnes in the corresponding period this year. The total value of these horticulture exports hit Kshs 43.5 billion, compared to Kshs 40.5 billion in 2012. Vegetable exports registered the highest growth in monetary terms, bringing an increase ofKshs1. 67 billion to stand at Kshs11 billion for the first six months of this year. This followed an increase from 28,881 metric tonnes in June 2012 to 38604.9 metric tonnes by June 2012.

Horticulture in Kenya - Horticulture Farming in Kenya
Horticulture in Kenya – Horticulture Farming in Kenya

Cut flower exports, which bring in the bulk of horticulture income, grew by Kshs 1.07 billion to Kshs 30.34 billion in June 2013 compared to a year earlier, with quantities increasing from 54,781 metric tonnes in June 2012 to 56,177 .5 metric tonnes by June 2013. Fruit exports, which stood at 16,036 metric tonnes in the period to June 2012, saw an increase to 17,109 metric tonnes in 2013. This translated to an increase in earnings by Kshs 229 million to Kshs 2.13 billion for the first half of the year.

A well-developed and dynamic private sector has profitably marketed many products to international markets. Government intervention has been minimal, mainly facilitating the sectoral growth through infrastructure development, incentives and support services. Structural and macroeconomic reforms and introduction of a more liberal trading environment has also provided a major boost to the country’s horticultural prospects.The tremendous performance of the horticulture sub-sector presents an ideal opportunity for investors.

Main Features of Horticulture Farming in Kenya

  1. The activity is scientifically oriented as advanced methods of crop production are employed. Such methods include, use of high yielding seeds, regular spraying to control pests and diseases and heavy application of fertilisers. All these ensure high yields.
  2. The practice is capital intensive. Therefore a lot of farm inputs are required. However it is also labour intensive considering that much of the farm work is done using human labour.
  3. In order to maximise on the produce, land is intensively used. This is mainly because horticulture is practiced in areas with land scarcity, hence farm  sizes are small.
  4. It is mainly practiced close to the urban centres this is because most of the products are perisable hence the need for production close to the markets.
  5. Due to the perishability of the products, it mainly involves quick and expensive modes of trasport e. g., the aeroplanes.
  6. The activitiy is export oriented, in that most of the products are grown for export, due to their increasing demand.

Horticulture Farming in Kenya

Conditions Favouring the Development of horticulture in Kenya

The following conditions favour horticultural farming in Kenya:

(i) Climate: The hot and wet climate favours the growth of tropical crops, while the cool and wet conditions prevailing in Kenya Highlands especially in areas like Limuru favours the growth of temperate crops like plums, pears, apples and grapes.

(ii) Soil : The fertile soils of volcanic origin favour growth of a variety of crops. This fertility is sustained by the liberal application of fertilisers.

(iii) Market: The high demand for the products both locally and internationally has led to the rapid development of the industry. The sprawling and mushrooming of old and new urban centres provide ready markets for horticultural products locally. The temperate lands in Western Europe offer good market for Kenyan horticultural products, especially in winter when tropical vegetables, fruits and flowers are in high demand.

(iv) Capital: Investment by large companies has led to the development of horticulture especially growing of fruits and vegetables. For instance, the Del Monte Company of Thika has large farms and exports most of canned products to Europe and Middle East.

Secondly, a wide range of vegetables and flowers are cultivated under irrigation around Lake Naivasha managed by the Pan African Foods Company and the Danish Chrysanthemum Company respectively.

The Kabazi Canners Company finances the vegetables and fruit farming in Bahati area of Nakuru county. The Sulmac Ltd. and Oserian Development Company handles flower industry in Lake Naivasha area.

(v) Research : Available technical and financial assistance from friendly countries. Kenya Government engaged the German Agricultural Team (GAT) to assist in the promotion of agricultural development with effect from 1965. Since then the crop production of the Ministry of Agriculture supported by advisors of GAT, has carried out horticultural development in three ways:

  • The Horticultural Crop Branch which is charged with the National Development of Horticultural Extension Training Scheme is charged with a responsibility of carrying out research. This division has established a Horticultural Research Station at Thika. They also conduct in -service courses for horticultural farmers at training institutions.
  • GAT assists in the National Horticultural Development Programme with a focus on Westem Kenya, the Coast region and the Taita Hills. This programme also includes the establishment of wholesale markets in Nairobi, Kisumu and Mombasa.
  • GAT assists the Ministry of Agriculture in the propagation of improved planting material and establishment of observation adaptation trials and commercial orchards. The activities are being carried out in several ecological zones.

(vi) Marketing systems: The farmers operate under well organized marketing systems managed by Horticultural Co-operative Union and Horticultural Development Authority (HCDA). HCDA helps the fanners to export their products.

 (vii) Transport: Most growing areas are accessible to the markets through roads and air transport.

(viii) Government policy:  The Government through its export promotion drive is encouraging the diversification of export crops with a view to broadening the country’s export base.

Horticulture Farming in Kenya – Crops Grown and their Distribution

(i) Vegetables . There are five types of vegetables namely:  The starchy tubers: These are vegetables which have stems which swell and ripen underground e.g., cassava, yams and sweet potatoes. They are mainly for local consumption.

The root crops: These are types of vegetables which store food in swollen roots, for example, carrots, turnips, parsnips, beet and swedes.

Pulses: These are leguminous vegetables which include plants such as peas, beans, lentils, soya beans and groundnuts.

Green vegetables: These include cabbages, cauliflower, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, green grams, spinach, spruce, kales (sukuma wiki), strawberries and brassicas.

Miscellaneous vegetables: These include onions, tomatoes, chillies and mushrooms.

The major vegetables grown in the horticultural farms in Kenya are divided into two categories, namely the Asian vegetables and European vegetables.

Other vegetables which are exported include: Turia, Gwar (winged beans), Papri, Tindori, and Siragwa.

The European vegetables which are exported from Kenya include french beans,  cauliflower and several cabbage families.

 (ii) Fruits: Most of the fruits grown in Kenya are for local consumption. A few are exported. Generally fruits grown in Kenya include:

Citrus fruits:  Grapes, oranges, lemons and tangcrines.

‘ Deciduous fruits: Apples, pears, peaches, plums and apricots. They are also called temperate fruits.

Tropical fruits: Bananas, loquat, dates, pawpaws, pineapple and avocadoes.

(iii) Flowers: The flowers grown in Kenya include roses, orchids, camations and gladioli. Floriculture (growing of flowers) is concentrated in Central, Eastern and parts of Rift Valley Provinces. The major growing areas are Limuru, Naivasha, parts of Embu, Kirinyaga, Murang’ a, Nyeri, and Kericho Districts. In Kericho, the flowers are grown by the African Highlands Produce Company. Cut-flowers for export are mainly from Kiambu. However, Naivasha is the leading flower producer followed by Limuru and Kirinyaga,

Horticulture Farming in Kenya – Technology in Use

some of these technologies include:- drip irrigation, fertigation systems, greenhouse ventilation systems, net shading, pre-cooling, cold storage facilities, grading, bouqueting , fertilizer recycling systems to prevent wastage, wetlands for waste water treatment, artificial lighting to increase day length, grading/packaging sheds, and refrigerated trucks.

Horticulture Farming in Kenya – Marketing of Horticulture Produce

Most of the products are consumed locally, especially by the urban population. Only a small percentage is exported. From the farm gate, the products are carried by people, donkeys and pick-ups to the concentration centres (grading sheds) located by the roadside. They are then graded.

The graded products are collected by the exporters and middlemen, who transport them in lorries or pick-ups to the airport.

Some of the vehicles used are fitted with refrigerated facilities especially the ones carrying highly perishable commodities like flowers and strawberry. The two receiving airports are Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (Nairobi) and Moi International Airport (Mombasa). Jomo Kenyatta International Airport handles some products from Coast like mangoes, curry leaves, gunda, saragwa and bananas because most of the consignees prefer to have a blend of varieties as one package.

The Kenya Highlands products mainly come from Central Province, Meru, Embu, Machakos, Kericho, Naivasha and Nanyuki.

Fruits from Kisii in Nyanza and beans from Bungoma and Kakamega in Western Province are hardly exported because of the distance factor. It is hoped that the opening  of the Eldoret International Airport will enhance exports from these areas. Cut-flowers are exported from Kiambu, Naivasha, Kirinyaga and Embu.

Mombasa ports of exit (air and harbour) handle Asian vegetables and mangoes. The Asian vegetables include Kerala, Dudhi, Turia, curry-leaves, Ikra, Gwar(winged beans), Papri, Tindori and Siragwa.

These horticultural products from Kenya are exported mainly to European markets by air. The major airlines handling the goods are Air France, British Airways, Olympic Airways, Gulf Air, Lufthansa and our local carrier, the Kenya Airways. They leave in the evening or at night so as to reach Europe in daytime before temperatures become low or foggy. Secondly, the airfreight aims at getting the morning auctioning especially at Harlem in Holland and Birmingham in Britain.

Asian vegetables are exported to England especially to Birmingham city where there is high concentration of the Asian Community. The European vegetables like French beans, cauliflower and cabbages are exported to many countries in Western Europe. The French beans (the most marketable vegetable) is classified into three categories, namely:

Extra-fine French beans — mainly to France.

Fine English French beans — mainly to Britain, Belgium, Germany, Holland and Denmark.

Baby French beans — mainly to Britain and Belgium.

Cauliflowers are mainly exported to the Netherlands, Germany, Norway and England. They are auctioned in Belgium to other world markets like Japan and USA.

Fruits are exported mainly to Europe, but a small percentage (20 – 30%) is exported to the Middle East countries.

Farmers are paid in cash by middlemen but exporters pay them in cheques after some period of delivery on weekly or fortnight basis. At times, exporters advance to them credit facilities such as farm inputs, for example fertilisers, which are later deducted from final payments.

Problems Facing Horticultural Farming in Kenya

  1. Seasonal roads get muddy during rainy seasons and this limits accessibility between farms and collecting centres.
  2. Inadequate refrigeration facilities may lead to reduction of quality since most products are highly perishable.
  3. The marketing system lacks proper organisation. At times some farmers’ produce rot in the farms.
  4. Freight charges are very high and this leads to marginal profit.
  5. The production cost is very high due to hiked input prices.
  6. There is stiff competition on the international market by producers such as the Netherlands and Israel.
  7. Pests and diseases often destroy crops such as tomatoes.

Horticulture Farming in Kenya – Importance

Horticulture in Kenya has contributed significantly to Kenya’s economy in the following ways:

  1. It is a foreign exchange earner.
  2. It is a major source of employment.
  3. It has led to the expansion and development of transport infrastructure.
  4. It has ensured the effective use of land, for example, swampy areas in Central Province are being reclaimed for production of vegetables.
  5. It is a major source of raw materials for local industries like fruit canning – and manufacture of vegetable oils.
  6. It has provided a source of income to farmers hence raising their standards of living.

Horticulture Farming in Kenya – Video

Horticulture in Kenya – Kenya Horticultural Exporters