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Spicy Jackpot: Where Kenyans need to place their bet

Ms. Esther  Wambui cutting some leaves from a spring onion plant in her kitchen garden. Photo by Courtesy.

Kenya is spices deficient. But it has no excuses for this gap. The country is gifted by Mother Nature with abundance of suitable climate and good soils. It also boasts of a knowledgeable and skilled human resource. That the environment for domestic and commercial production of spices is conducive is in no doubt.

The spices deficiency falls in the backdrop of a multi-billion industry, whose potential is yet to be exploited in the Kenyan soils and market.

According to available data, from the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock, Fisheries and Irrigation, the domestic value of horticulture by 2012 amounted to Sh. 306 billion. Out of this, herbs and spices contributed Sh. 4.9 billion accounting for less than 2% of the total values of the domestic horticulture.

Spices production (2012) Source: Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock, Fisheries and Irrigation
Spice crops                                Area (Ha)             Quantity (Ton)           Value (KShs)

Long cayenne chilies                  299                        1,323                          46,290,740
African birds eye (Abe) chillies    209                           817                          43,527,800
Bullet chilies                                112                            781                          33,622,750
*Garlic                                         215                         1,217                       177,010,200
Corriander                                  196                          2,254                         49,546,126

Chart explanation: *With the exception of chilies, spices production largely remain unexploited in Kenya especially due to inadequate research and development as well as crops promotion and utilization. Production remains low but expansion and commercialisation continues especially for ginger, turmeric and garlic.

“The country is capable of producing triple what it does presently to mitigate more than 80% importation of our national requirement of spices,” Head of State Corporations Unit in the State Department of Agriculture, Mr. Eliud Kamau states.

Kamau, an agricultural economist says that the main spices produced in Kenya include garlic, cayenne, chili, bullet chili, cloves, ginger, turmeric, tamarind, coriander and vanilla. Spices are still in the category of emerging crops with the country remaining a net importer.

“Spices in this country are grown by smallholder farmers who are not able to meet the market demand. Majority do it as a hobby, for domestic consumption. Very few of them have ventured into the export market,” he concedes.

Further he says, one doesn’t need an acre to make millions from the seasonings because they are low volume but high value products. He calculates that a kilo of ginger for example costs about Sh 250 in the local market.
“To produce one tonne of ginger, a farmer requires only a fraction of an acre, with a turnover of Sh. 250, 000 from even a quarter acre,” he elucidates.

A group of participants who had attended a training on Value Addition on Spices at the Indian Institute of Spices (IISR), Kozhikode, Kerala, India being taken through how spices extracts are used to make drugs
Courtesy of Mr. Eliud Kamau, Head of State Corporations Unit, Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock, Fisheries and Irrigation.

His admission on the miniature practice of spice farming is corroborated by a spice enthusiast, Ms. Esther Wambui, who has put up a kitchen garden in her 40 feet by 80 feet plot. Within the plot, she has planted some spring onions, sukuma wiki, pawpaw, amaranth and passion fruit.

Wambui has barricaded a section in the kitchen garden to prevent their dog from damaging the plants which are neatly arranged in containers and a few planted on the demarcated soil ground.

“I do add spices to my food as I cook. I do not add any processed spices but prefer to use them in their natural form,” Wambui says.

Asked what spices she adds, she replies; “The bulb onion of course. I also love spring onions. I tend to believe the spring onion is tastier, especially the green part. It has a way of colouring the food and it also makes it more attractive.”

Wambui mentions that she adds spring onion in her mukimo (mashed maize and beans mixed with either potatoes or green bananas) as the seasoning makes the dish aromatic.

The mother of two teenage girls adds that in the mix are tomatoes for taste and colour and often, some ginger and garlic.

“I use the last two because I hear they are medicinal,” she quips with a smile, adding, and, “eggplant, georgette (or zucchini), cucumbers and dhania (coriander) are a by-the-way.”

Her challenge however, is that she has to buy what she needs away from the kitchen garden, “in small quantities” because of their perishability.

Druscila Nakhauka, a resident in Ongata Rongai Ward, Kajiado County, also does some small scale farming where she has planted kales, cabbage, egg plant, cucumbers and bulb onions. A few corianders are also found in the one acre farm.

Asked whether she puts spices in her food she replied; “I do. In fact I do not miss to add onions and tomatoes in my food. Once in a while I go to Kware market and buy a tuber of ginger. I do not like garlic at all in my food. It has an offensive smell.”

What Nakhauka does not seem to realise is that there is a difference between spices and vegetables as confirmed by Mary Wanjiku, a bio-medical graduate specializing in phytochemicals, and currently championing for spices farming in Kenya.

“I too used to think that onions and tomatoes are spices, but in my studies and exposure, I now understand that these are vegetables,” notes Wanjiku.

Wanjiku, who is a member of Women Farmers Association of Kenya (WOFAK), who did phytochemicals in her undergraduate studies, explains the importance of spices in people’s lives.

“Plants use phytochemicals as a defense against potential threats which may include bacteria, viruses, and fungi. When we consume these plants as fruits and vegetables, these defenses are passed along to us in order to fight off threats to our health,” says Wanjiku.

She emphasizes the need to make Kenyans more aware of the health benefits, noting that brightly coloured fruits and vegetables contain the highest concentrations of phytochemicals, and may help us fight off diseases such as cancer and heart disease.

Ms. Mary Wanjiku, member of Women Farmers Association of Kenya who is sensitizing a women’s group, and mixed gender group at Maragua Ridge and Mbombo are, on spices farming
Photo by Arnold Cheptumo/KNA.

“Phytochemicals interfere with the processes that cause chronic diseases, for example, they may prevent carcinogens, the cancer-causing agents, from forming in our bodies. People should eat foods containing phytochemicals like fruits, vegetables, grains, and beans,” she says.

Wanjiku says she is working with farmers in Maragua, Murang’a County who have shown interest in spice farming. She is on a pilot sensitisation program with two groups, one a women only group and another of mixed gender at Maragua Ridge and Mbombo area.

“I want to teach them how to grow some spices like turmeric, which in our local stalls mostly comes from Uganda and Tanzania. I am particularly interested in making them aware of the medicinal value in spices that will in the long term create local demand and consumption as a launch pad. It is also a good avenue to empower the women economically,” she expresses.

Spices are multi-beneficial; including adding colour and preservation of foods; providing sweet smells in perfumes, are used in cosmetics, have immense medicinal value as well as making concoctions for religious rituals, the spices advocate adds.

To facilitate spice production and consumption, a training program on Triangular Cooperation adapting technological advances and innovative solutions to address food security challenges in Africa was started in 2010 in India.

It involves conducting training on select countries of which the pilot phase focused on three African countries, namely Kenya, Malawi and Liberia. This is via Feed the Future India Triangular Training (FTF ITT) program that aims to train 1400 agricultural professionals from 17 partner countries in Asia and Africa by the year 2020.

Kenya has started benefitting from this cooperation as between 13th -29th May, 2018, a six member team composed of agribusiness officers, research unit, agricultural extension, and agricultural policy representatives attended training on Value Addition on Spices. The training was undertaken at the Indian Institute of Spices (IISR),

Kozhikode, Kerala, an institution specifically dedicated to spices research.
Kamau who attended the training explains that India is way ahead of the pack in the spice industry. Other than research, he observes, India has invested heavily and supported spices related institutions such as Central Food Research Institute (CFTRI), in Mysore, Karnataka; and spices industries like Kancor Ingredients Ltd, Angamaly and Panda, areas of which they visited.

He expounds; “While Kenya is sleeping on a goldmine, on the other hand, India, the world’s largest producer and consumer of its own spices in the world, is thriving on this lucrative trade.”

According to India Brand Equity Foundation, (IEBF) in their website, India, known as the ‘home of spices’, boasts a long history of trading with the ancient civilisations of Rome and China.
“Today, Indian spices are the most sought-after globally, given their exquisite aroma, texture, taste and medicinal value,” reports IEBF.

Further, it states, India has the largest domestic market for spices in the world, is the world’s largest producer, consumer and exporter of spices and that it produces about 75 of the 109 varieties listed by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) and accounts for half of the global trading in spices. Their major importers are United States of America, Vietnam, China, United Arab Emirates, Iran, Thailand, United Kingdom, Saudi Arabia, Malaysia and Germany.

Top spices produced in the country include pepper, cardamom, chilli, ginger, turmeric, coriander, cumin, celery, fennel, fenugreek, ajwain, dill seed, garlic, tamarind, clove, and nutmeg among others.

Kamau in his training report indicates that Indian spice export in 2016 –17 amounted to 9, 47,790 tons – worth Rs. 17664.60 Crores (10 Lakhs) (2633.30 million USD). They command a share of 48% in quantity in world spice market, and 44% in value. Total spices export from India stood at 1.08 billion kilogrammes, valued at US$ 3.11 billion in the year 2017-18.

And herein lies an opportunity for the agribusiness savvy farmers, particularly those who may not own large tracts of land, but can even lease to earn their first million in a quarter of an acre, if well managed.

Regrettably, every day, Kenyans, both young and old, females and males are indulging in betting, an addictive behaviour that is minting billions across the gender and age divide.

The youth are the ones mostly trapped by this trend and are burning their shillings in bundles buying from the telecoms and cyber cafes as they try to predict winners and losers in multiple gaming sites like Betway, BetPawa, mCheza, SportPesa, and Betin among others.

They are enticed by an allure of hitting the jackpot worth tens of millions. This has in many cases been counterproductive with even some bidders destroying their relationships with family and friends while others committing suicide after losing their bets.

A shrub of red pepper, a spice used in seasoning foods in either raw or processed form. Photo by KNA.

Kamau challenges those engaging in betting to drop their monies in a more productive sector, spice farming.

“Instead of placing your bets on these gambling sites, which have no guarantee of returns, just lease a 50 feet by 40 feet plot and plant some spices. By so doing, you will have placed a sure bet, and are on your way to hitting the jackpot,” he concludes.

By  Nancy  Macharia/KNA

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