They come in different varieties, namely, karela, dudhi, okra and eggplant, and with an export market in Oslo, Paris, London and even South Africa, Joseph Kinyua Muriithi needed little convincing to put up the crop in his eight-acre farm at Mitunguu in Meru County.
The 38-year-old father of two says he embraced Asian kale in 2011 as, “Climate in this region is warm making the temperatures favourable for the growth of vegetables coupled with fertile soils and availability of water.”
The high demand both locally and internationally for the Asian kale is due to its high nutritional value.
Karela occupies three-thirds of Kinyua’s farm. Ravaya takes up an acre, while dudhi and okra occupy half-an-acre each with the rest of the farm being occupied by bananas.
“They are popular for their nutritional value, for instance, okra has a high fibre content which helps with digestion, stabilising blood sugar and is rich in vitamin C and is high in antioxidants,” says Kinyua, adding it’s also a good source of calcium and potassium and helps promote healthy pregnancy, prevents diabetes and kidney diseases.
When farming Asian kale, the land should be well cultivated and manured for fertility. The soils should be made loose depending on the variety; for Okra and Ravaya, loose soils will make drilling easier.
For Dudhi and Karella, shallow holes of two by two feet in terms of depth and width are dug with support posts and wires being put up to trail the plants with a spacing of three metres from one post to another and four metres from one row to another.
FERTILIZER TO STRENGTHEN ROOTS
Once the kales sprout, DAP fertiliser is used to strengthen the roots followed by spraying with a fungicide to control any fungal infection with weeding being done regularly.
For Dudhi both the insecticide and a fungicide are sprayed to control both the pests and any fungal infection as it is more susceptible to pests.
Harvesting is done depending on the variety; Okra is harvested in 45 days after planting while Karela and Ravaya are harvested in three months which can continue for the next 60 days.
Dudhi is harvested 90 days after planting which can continue for six months. Once the produce is harvested it’s sorted and the best grade packed for export while the rest is sold locally.
Paul Gaute, marketing manager Hilfra Holdings Ltd, advises that quality is key for any produce meant for export which should be ensured right from the quality of seeds being purchased to the right use of chemicals to maintaining the right hygiene standards by ensuring that the farmers have the right tools, including gloves and availability of a clean toilet and a washing area.
“A farmer should also have a grading table, a charcoal cooler and a park house where the produce will be graded by trained and qualified staff with records being taken on the quality of the produce and rejects,” says Gaute.
In terms of pest control, Kinyua employs integrated pest management, a technique that combines the biological control; where he uses pests to trap other pests e.g. ladybird, cultural methods and chemical control where he uses chemicals minimally.
The greatest challenge Kinyua cites is lack of organised market as initially farmers had a direct link with the exporters a thing that was disrupted three years ago forcing them to deal with brokers who often swindle and embezzle their funds.
His complaint is backed up by Erastus Gituma an export agent saying, “We experience challenges when exporting as the procedure now is quite complicated, the exporting companies have been forced to go through double inspection both at the warehouse and at the airport and often the produce is discarded on the basis of non-compliance which can be ascertained if the government streamlined the procedure by ensuring that each farmer has a traceability code such that if a certain variety is to be discarded, the source can be tracked as previously farmers could export to: London, Germany, Oslo, South Africa, France and other parts of Europe.
The government should also ensure a central inspection point as currently the procedure is far too complicated and tedious,” Gituma attests.
Dudhi is rich in minerals, vitamins, potassium, magnesium, phosphorous and sodium and it helps prevent cold and flu, whereas zinc helps reduce liver infection and damage.
Intake of dudhi also helps reduce the chances of stroke and is known to treat and cure diabetes.
While ravaya is known to be low in calories and fats but rich in soluble fibre, minerals and is effective in controlling high blood cholesterol.
Karela is an outstanding medication for diabetes as it helps lower blood and urine sugar levels without increasing blood insulin level. Its juice is also quite advantageous for treating hangovers and is also recommended for normalising restless, sleepless nights and it also has purifying properties that helps treat blood disorders.”
In a good season Kinyua makes Sh300,000 — he sells 80 cartons of ravaya each at Sh150, 70 cartons of Karela each at Sh300, 50 cartons of Dudhi at Sh300 each, and 40 cartons of okra at 300 each.
Not for a Sh15,000 investment that he learnt from other farmers who had been trained by the Ministry of Agriculture.
He says his dream is to expand his acreage to over 25 acres where he can be contracted to farm for a company.
“Before farming the Asian kale, the soils should be tested to determine the quality of fertiliser to be used and water tested for irrigation suitability.
Farm inputs should come from a recognised and licensed stockist. Seeds must be certified and the right crop variety be ascertained depending on the region, put up storage facilities and a farmer should have appropriate documentation from KEPHIS before exportation,” says Paul Gaute.
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- Soil should be tested to determine the quality of fertiliser to be used and water tested for irrigation suitability.
- Farm inputs should come from a recognised and licensed stockist. Seeds must be certified and the right crop variety be ascertained depending on the region and appropriate export papers