Why it's easier to import onions than farm them in Kenya

Why it's easier to import onions than farm them in Kenya

File image of packed onions ready for transportation. PHOTO | COURTESY

Onions are an irreplaceable kitchen staple; whether you’re just frying something, making salads or even pickles, chances are that you will always need an onion or two in the mix.

They are probably the most used vegetables in Kenya, but despite their extensive uses, it might surprise you to know that it’s actually cheaper to import than to farm onions locally.

According to Lucy Wangari, an agronomist and the founder of ‘Onion Doctor’ company, government policy has made it costly to farm onions in the country, particularly because it is prohibited to grow your own high breed seeds in Kenya.

Ms. Wangari, who was speaking during a Hot 96 Agricultural Twitter space hosted by Sarah Njoroge, observed that countries like Tanzania, where Kenya gets much of her onion supply, have lesser stringent policies.

She opined that government incentives and taxed imposed on horticulture farming also make it very expensive to be an onion farmer in Kenya.

“Kenya does not favour farmers because it’s prohibited and against the law to grow your own high breed seeds in Kenya, yet Tanzanians are allowed to produce their local seeds; which means the cost of production will be triple in Kenya than Tanzania because of the cost of onion seeds,” said Ms. Wangari.

During the Gold Dust Agrispace, it also emerged that, more often than not, it is not even Tanzanians who produce the onions, but rather Kenyans who go and invest in neighbouring countries then bring them back to Kenya for sale.

Currently, it costs a start-up farmer about Ksh.350,000 an acre to start off an onion farming journey. This is inclusive of permanent structures like drip irrigation, seeds, agronomic support and labour.

For a returning onion farmer, it will cost them Ksh.200,000 an acre inclusive of seeds, labour and agronomic support. The harvest, however, could give you triple profits for both.

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Onions Horticulture Lucy Wangari

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