A beginners guide to onion farming in kenya

A beginners guide to onion farming in kenya

50 percent of the red onions in Kenya are imported from Tanzania, as indicated by Food and Agriculture Organisation’s (FAO) 2014 report. Kenyan Farmers have been doing their best to address the demand and close the gap, but there is still more supply to be achieved. This makes the Red Bulb Onion a very attractive commercial investment for the Kenyan market at the moment, since local production is not enough.

Major types of onions farmed in Kenya are bulb onions and spring onions. The best areas suited for farming being Karatina, Oloitoktok, Naivasha, Kieni, Emali and Mai Mahiu.

Bulb onions take 3 to 4 months to reach maturity. Short rains are great for bulb onions since they can be harvested between January and February. Local farmers are able to benefit during this time period, since there is low supply of onions from Tanzania at this time of the year. After the long rains of March, the price of these onions hike and farmers who harvest after these period make good profit margins.

Our recent market analysis, shows red onion prices in Mombasa are going at Ksh 1,174 per 15 kg bag while the highest prices are in Eldoret, at Ksh 1,491 per 15 kg bag. Heavy rains experienced in the months of May and June in these areas have contributed to the price hikes.

Spring onions are easy to plant. You can even plant them at your kitchen garden. They are commonly used in vegetable salads or as seasoning in soups. Some of the health benefits of spring onions include lower blood sugar and decreasing blood pressure and cholesterol levels.

Of the two types, bulb onions are more popular than the spring ones due to their long shelf life and sweet taste. Currently, there are two different varieties of bulb onions in the market. There is the small, thin and firmly layered onion that has a strong pungent smell from Tanzania. The second one is the big loosely held variety that is grown locally, in Kenya.

Conditions for Onion Farming

Onions perform well in well drained, fertile, sandy loam, non-compacted soils. The ideal pH is 5.8 to 6.8. Onion farming is a worthy venture since it’s possible to grow onions throughout the year via irrigation. Soil test with accredited laboratories is advised.

The ideal temperatures onions need to grow are between 13 – 35 degrees centigrade. This means that onions can grow in most parts of Kenya. However, to maximize production in areas such as Ukambani and some parts in the Coastal area, one needs to invest in a greenhouse and drip irrigation. This is because greenhouses will optimize the temperatures since these areas are hot and irrigation will provide the much needed water. Onions are a cool season crop. Most areas in Ukambani and the Coastal region are extremely dry.

In terms of requirements, apart from land that is an obvious fact, other requirements are DAP Fertilizer and seedlings. 1 kg of seedlings can be used in 1 acre while 20 grams of DAP Fertilizer is applied per square meter.

You should note that there are different seed varieties and they perform differently under different conditions. Common hybrid varieties available in Kenya include Red Creole, Red Pinnoy, Jambar 1 and Red Bombay. The most popular seed variety in Kenya is the Jambar F1 since it produces high yield and the size of its onions are bigger.

Challenges facing Onion Farming in Kenya

Rains or Excess Watering: Too much rains or excess watering can water log the crop. If the rain in your area is too much, focus on growing the crop during the short rains. You can also raise the beds to ensure the water flows out of the field. Avoid excessive watering of your onions. The best type of irrigation on onions is drip irrigation. Overhead irrigation should be avoided as it causes fungal diseases.

Diseases: Common diseases that affect onions include Downy Mildew, Bacterial Soft Rots, Pink/White Root, Botrytis, and Rusts. Use herbicides to get rid of the diseases.

Pests: Common pests that attack onions include maggots, thrips, nematodes and the leaf miner. Use pesticides from accredited brands to get rid of the pests.

Weeds: Weeds can also destroy your crop and should be removed occasionally either physically or through the use of herbicides. In one season, there should be at least 2 – 3 weeding sessions.

Harvesting onions

The best time to do the harvesting is during the dry season. Keep a calendar and record the essential dates to ensure you harvest at the right time. Bulb onions are ready for harvesting once they form a shiny membranous cover around the bulbs or when the foliage withers. Spring onions are ready for harvesting when they are 15 centimeters tall and 1.5 centimeters thick.

Harvesting is done by pulling the bulbs and then chopping off the leaves. You then dry the bulbs in the sun before storing the produce.

Nairobi is experiencing the lowest prices at the moment at 825 kshs per 15 kg bag. This can be attributed to Nairobi being the capital city and many farmers who produce the vegetable are in areas closely bordering it, such as Karatina, Mai Mahiu, Emali and Kieni having easy access to the market. Get more market analysis from our Price trends to always get updated on the Onion trends.

Getting started on chili farming

One of the lessons for beginners in chilies is to always have a market in mind when you start planting chilies. Someone has to be literary waiting for your chilies to pick them as soon as you harvest. Try free-styling just like that and you will be fighting frustrations from your over-ripping chilies with no real buyer to buy your them and a swarm of brokers telling you how to minimize your loses by selling to them as if they are buying rejects.

Before you begin planting you have to make sure that your market is viable enough for you to cover your productions costs within the first 2 to 3 harvests. This will leave you with the remaining 3 to 4 harvests to enjoy and have some savings for your next season.

You can get a viable market by subscribing to MFarm. We have buyers who are looking for different types of chilies hence it is a matter of deciding which variety rolls best for you. Currently there are limited slots for this one so it’s important you alert us before or just after you plant so that we can have adequate time to set you up for the markets.

You can also visit the market if you are up for it. There are brokers who will be happy to add you to their list of chili suppliers. However, you have to be careful with this option since it will likely frustrate you big time come harvesting time as described here.

If you think you can’t offer enough market quantities (given that most export buyers require huge quantities for them to commit to you), you can contact MFarm and you will be added to a chilies group. There you will get to interact with other chili farmers and you can aggregate your produce with them to satisfy large orders from buyers. The trick is not to do it alone, you will experience burnouts and get disappointed.

Which Varieties?

Once you have the market, planting should begin right away. There are many chili varieties to choose from such as Jalapeno, Bird Eye, Serenade, Cayenne, and Habareno among others. The variety to plant mostly depend on whether your target market is local or the export one.

For the local market, most farmers on the chili production group in MFarm recommended African bird eye, the bullet variety or the long cayenne variety. This is because they are the mostly demanded ones in the local markets.

For the export market, any variety is okay so no limitations.

Where to get the seeds

A good product sells itself(within reason). If you produce chilies which exceeds your buyers’ expectations while fulfilling their needs and wants, then you won’t have problems marketing them. The only way to have the right chili product is to plant the right chili seeds.

For this reason, it is highly recommended you get certified seeds for chili production. This is necessary because such seeds are clean and well tested for different production environments. This means you will incur less production costs to develop them and the produce you will get is likely to fetch some premium price in the markets. They might be a bit costly but they are definitely more rewarding.

Speaking with Robert, a veteran chili farmer from Makueni doing long cayenne variety, you can get good seeds from companies such as safari seeds, royal seeds and green life protection.

If you do not have the cash for seeds from the seeds companies, you can check on the farmer next door for some second generation chili seeds. This will be a cheaper option but might be catastrophic during production if the seeds you obtained were not disease free, hence proceed with caution for this one.

What next?

Well, if you have acquired your desired seeds, get your machetes and ‘jembes’ ready. We are about to do some seed bed preparation.

Defeating tomato disease: part 1 – bacterial wilt!

Defeating tomato disease: part 1 – bacterial wilt!


It’s the warm season. Farmers are happy that their tomatoes are finally going to receive the much sunlight needed for the fruit to grow bigger, juicier and firmer. What most probably don’t know is that with the warm weather sets in the most dreaded disease. The monster that can wipe a farmer’s field clean : Bacteria Wilt.

Bacteria Wilt is caused by the pathogen bacterium Ralstonia Solanacearum and is quite common in the moist & humid sandy soils. This bacterium lives in the soil and will work its way quickly through the roots and up the stem of the plants.  It’s spread by contaminated equipment, soil, water and infected plant material.


The first symptoms of the disease is wilting of the youngest lower leaves of the plant and eventually the entire plant dies without any leaf spotting or yellowing. These symptoms usually occur when the weather is hot, the humidity is high or the soil is wet. It is also common with soils that have high pH.

The glass test

You can test for bacterial wilt by cutting the stem at the base of the plant. Look for discolored tissue. Suspend the stem in a glass of water. If it is infected, a white, slimy substance will ooze into the water.

Treatment & Control

There are no known chemicals to effectively control this disease. As suggested by veteran farmers in the #askMFarm session held on Monday, it was agreed that planting resistant varieties is probably the best solution so far.

So how do I prevent Bacterial Wilt asks the farmer? Follow these good cultural controls says M-Farm

1. Test your soil for bacterial wilt before planting. There are several institutions that do soil test such as KARI, JKUAT and  SoilCares Limited (0728 970 136). Ensure to also test for pH and maintain a pH of 6.2-6.5

2. Rotate your crops regularly

3. If any of your crops is affected, uproot them.

4. Growing the plants off the ground in bags is recommended. The bags should not directly sit on the ground to avoid any contact with the soil.If not planting in bags or pots,try raised beds to improve drainage as running water spreads the disease fast

5.Space plants far enough apart to provide good air circulation.

6.Wash your hands after handling infected plants and sterilizes any gardening tool that could have been used in infected soil.

With these few tips and tricks, we wish all the best in maintaining a disease free farm.

Blossom end rot in capsicums

Ber capsicum

Growing capsicums is relatively easy and that’s why it has picked amongst many farmers especially in urban areas. They don’t burn too much of your resources like having to weed them day in day out. You can grow them anywhere even on your backyard as long as there is a good breeze and a bit of direct sunshine, or plant them in pots and place them on your veranda.

Despite being relatively easy to grow them, there are few problems you are likely to face with your capsicums. One of those problems is blossom end rot, a disease caused by insufficient calcium in your crops. Calcium is necessary to help in developing cell walls for the capsicum fruits hence a deficiency in it can be quite catastrophic.


If you notice some dark and rotten spots at the bottom of your capsicums, then know your plants have been infected with this blossom end rot. Those dark and rotten spots you are witnessing are cell walls of the capsicum fruits collapsing due to insufficient calcium supply.

Causes of calcium deficiency on your capsicum fruits

A number of factors lead to this problem. The soil could be lacking calcium in the first place or it has enough calcium which is tied up in the soil due to competition from other minerals. As described by Tony, one of the experienced MFarmers doing green house farming in Kikuyu, Machakos and Kwale, calcium is less soluble compared to some other minerals. Therefore, during water uptake by the plant, those other minerals are likely to take the front seat leaving calcium untouched in the soil.

Another factor is irregular or insufficient water supply in the plant which reduces calcium uptake. For calcium to be absorbed by plant it has to be dissolved in water. Hence if no water available for absorption, then no calcium uptake.

Too much fertilizer application which supports robust vegetative growth making calcium supply unable to catch up. Calcium is less mobile. It takes a while to trans-locate from the roots to the leaves. If you have a plant that is growing really fast, then you have problems as it will take a while before the calcium reaches the leaves where fruit development usually occurs.

Also wrong timing of nitrogen fertilizers applications. If you apply nitrogen fertilizers during fruiting, vegetative growth will be induced and that means calcium will trans locate from the fruits to support this vegetative growth. It will take a while before it goes back to continue supporting fruit development.

How to fix this

Soil tests. You will need PH levels above 6 to beat calcium deficiency and the best way to determine that is by carrying out soil tests. This will give you a clear picture of how much lime to add. If everything is okay with the soil, then based on your soil test results, your soil test service provider will recommended you better alternative sources of calcium to apply.

As suggested by MFarm farmers, you can pay a visit or send your soil samples to a soil testing lab of your choice. KARLO or Soilcares ltd are one of those organizations offering soil testing services.

Check your fertilizer application schedule. Avoid nitrogen fertilizers as soon as fruiting stage sets in as this will trigger vegetative growth.

Keep an even moisture supply in your production environment. Water your plants regularly and apply mulching where necessary. This will keep an active process of absorbing calcium solution to the plant.

Also, applying crushed egg shells to your soils is likely to improve calcium levels in the long run hence limiting your blossom end rot occurrences.

As per suggestion by Tony, applying Calcium fortified fertilizers such as “ARM Mavuno” or Compound fertilizers such as CAN can help fix calcium deficiency. However, the best approach would be spraying your farm with foliar feeds. A good example is the “Grocal” one from Amiran. What happens with CANs and the likes is that they just increase the concentration of Calcium in the soils to wrestle up with the other minerals. This might work well, which is fine. But with foliar feeds, what happens is the calcium is directly injected into the plant via the small holes on the leaves(if you remember stomata). And with calcium being less mobile, you will have enough supply of calcium where it is required for a long time.


It is quite important to do soil tests before you begin planting your crops. Always know your environment well to avoid some surprises. Blossom end rot should not give you sleepless nights as it easy to fix. Applying necessary fertilizers and foliar feeds should do the trick. However, once a capsicum fruit is infected with blossom end rot, just get rid of it as it will not recover. It will be unmarketable and if left in the field, it will just consume more resources for nothing.