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    17314899 colorful fruits and vegetables colorfully arranged at a local fruit and vegetable market in nairobi

    By George Munene
    According to agricultural commodity watchers, onions, tomatoes, potato and cabbage farmers are scheduled to benefit from surging prices in the coming weeks and months.
    This year has seen the best of times as it has the worst of times for Kenyan farmers. Agricultural produce prices have been driven by unaccounted for wrinkles; Covid-19 restrictions which curbed cross boarder travel curtailed imports of agriproducts leading to an unprecedented increase in prices across Kenyan markets. Erratic weather patterns which are bound to only further affect farming patterns going forward also wreaked havoc on anticipated supply patterns.
    “Farming is also becoming more speculative In Kenya, we are witnessing mass rushing into and out of agriculture that creates artificial bubbles rendering the usual seasonal price patterns difficult to decipher,” says Joshua Mamwaka, a wholesale trader at Muthurwa’s Wakulima Market.
    We try to forecast where and when the opportunities lie into the new year for Kenyan farmers.
    Onions prices hovered around Sh100-120 in April and May, a price Joshua has not seen since he started keeping track of commodity prices in 2015. In August, just three short months later, prices had fallen to a record low of Sh40 per kg, and when he thought the bottom had fallen out they fell even further to Sh34/kg in November. “Prices are just now beginning to rise with a kilogram back up to Sh40. With Tanzanian onions slowly receding from the Kenyan market—they now makeup about one-third of onions and are mostly small-sized with the large onions extinct and the preferred medium-sized onion hard to find. This is compared to mid-June when 80 per cent of the Kenyan onion market consisted of Tanzanian imports. I foresee prices climbing to between Sh50 and 60 for a kilogram in January and February and even above Sh60 over the March and April months when long rains start, “says Joshua.

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    The restriction in travel in March caused by Covid-19 saw a halt in the arrival of truckloads of Tanzanian onions that are preferred by Kenyan consumers because they are well dried and cured having a longer shelf life of up to two months compared to Kenyan onions which on average last just 1½ weeks.
    Tomato prices have also followed a similar pattern; farmgate prices hit a record Sh 80-100 per kilogram in February. This was largely caused by the December short rains which persisted into January and February. “This drove speculative farmers looking to cash in on the momentarily inflated prices into growing tomatoes. Kenyan traders also crossed the border into Tanzania at Kimana, Loitokitok bringing back trailer loads of tomatoes. This flooded the market causing prices to plummet to as low as Sh25 a kilogram, Sh 300 for a 30-kilogram bread crate. Tomatoes prices are however currently on the upswing over the past week owing to heavy rains—which are often accompanied by curtailed production— in tomato-producing regions.
    Potato farmers have experienced similar highs and subsequent lows; due to delayed rains which rot potatoes whilst they were still in the shamba in September the quantities of potatoes produced in the country fell and prices rose to Sh4000 for a 90-kilogram bag in October; a period traders expect the prices of potatoes to be at their lowest. The price of a 90kg bag of potatoes in the country usually ranges between Sh3000 and 2000. ”September prices are now being experienced in December with a 90 kg bag going for just Sh 2,100-2,400, a 20-kilogram bucket for Sh400— this is nearly half where prices were just a month ago. I expect prices to remain relatively stable at below Sh3000 up to mid to late January before gradually picking up before the heavy April rains,” Joshua elucidates

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    In July, cabbages in the market were in short supply; a large cabbage went for a wholesale price of Sh40. With their especially low barrier of entry, this saw many first time farmers take up cabbages. Markets have since been overwhelmed; an extra-large 4kg cabbage goes for Sh15 and traders are still struggling to find buyers. The woes of cabbage farmer have further been compounded by the prolonged part-closure of eateries, schools and other institutions which make up the bulk buyers of cabbages. “With the opening of schools and the usual January to February dry season which sees little agricultural production given our farmer’s dependence on rains, I would have readied my field in anticipation of fetching better prices over this period, ” Mamwaka says.
    Garlic farmers are amongst the few with a reason to smile this festive season; local/ kienyeji garlic has held at artificially high prices—Sh300 per kilogram—over the last two weeks, though prices are steadily self-correcting back to Sh200/kg. A kilogram of imported garlic, 80 percent of which comes from China, with the rest from Tanzania and Ethiopia, goes for Sh250 per kg. “The arrival of containers of Chinese imported garlic at Mombasa, prices can shift prices by Sh30 less for Kenyan garlic farmers,” Joshua explains. Garlic prices are usually at their highest from March to May when China and the rest of the world’s garlic supply is at its lowest. Prices were at Sh300 per kilogram between these months before halving to Sh150 between June and July and rising again.

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    By George Munene

    Since the coronavirus outbreak in Kenya in March ginger prices have been trending upward as the public seeks home-based immunity boosters; gingerol, an active component that makes ginger serves as a perfect immunity booster. This is compounded by the fact that up to 90 per cent of the ginger consumed in Kenya is sourced from Uganda, Tanzania, South Africa, China, Ethiopia, or India.

    The ginger shortage and price rise is for a variety of reasons replicated throughout the globe with disruptions in existing supply chains presenting opportunities to new ginger export markets.

    China, which accounts for half the world’s ginger supply has seen its ginger harvest decline by 20 per cent owing to the June to September floods that affected October’s production and Covid-19’s disruption in the supply of farm labour. The pandemic has also seen increased demand for ginger as more people have been forced to cook and bake at home.

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    "Generally, you will make a killing if you can offer ginger on wholesale right now. The Brazilian and Thailand season is ending; these countries will only come back on the market in February. It's not a question of sales. It's more one of being able to deliver the goods. After all, people still want to offer ginger but there aren't any alternatives with very few ginger producers," says Marcel Verdellen of Satori a Netherlands-based importer.

    The world’s second and third largest ginger suppliers, India and Iran, have also seen their production hampered significantly. Two concurrent flood years in India have seen production drop 30 per cent while Iran has had to close its borders as it has surpassed one million coronavirus cases and 50,000 deaths.

    With the Chinese ginger season just about underway, the acute shortage is projected to last well into the new year.

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    Online retailers Tesco, Sainsbury’s and Asda's have completely sold out of the spice online and supermarket stores across Europe are also running low on supplies and foresee being unable to meet the expected spike in demand over the Christmas period.

    “This gap in the supply from China, the biggest supplier of ginger, portends great opportunities for other ginger supplying countries that have the quantities and quality to supply to European markets,” says Gabriel Bonancin of Fresh Quality which imports ginger to Europe.

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    George Munene

    Simon Musyoka invested up to Sh8 million in setting up the Sunsweet factory in Kitui Central that employs over 20 workers processing mangoes into flakes for export to the United States. The factory buys mangoes from farmers at a minimum price of Sh15 per kilogram which is recommended by the Kitui County government; this represents fairer value to the three shillings per piece gotten from brokers. The factory also sources mangoes from Lamu, Kilifi, Malindi, Hola and Witu counties.

    The mangoes are processed into flakes that fetch up to Sh500 per kilogram to the Sh15 gotten from raw mangoes

    “I started drying mangoes last year with expertise I got on value addition from training at Jomo Kenyatta University. As I have some 100 trees I have to source most of my mangoes from other farmers,” says Musyoka. He also encourages mango farmers to form cooperatives to be able to sell their produce at scale which gives them greater bargaining power.    

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    The mangoes are harvested from farms and brought in by farmers to the factory where they are washed and put into cold rooms. They are then taken to the factory for peeling, slicing and solar drying.

    “We are taking advantage of the Ukamabani sunshine, often seen as a problem to farmers, but can be tapped for fruit and vegetable drying. Mango flakes are a unique offering that we hope will give us an edge in both the local and international markets; juices compete with a lot of other drinks in the market. Our flakes will soon be on the market and we hope as people eat chips and crisps, they also give the nutritious Kitui mango flakes a bite,” says Dr.Temi Mutia, a value chain addition specialist at Kitui.

    “We are also holding training of trainers teaching camps for select members of ten farmer cooperatives with up to 4,000 members drawn throughout the county with close to 80,000 mango trees. The TOTs are then expected to train members at their cooperative level on cultivation and harvesting best practices as well as proper handling and transportation of mangoes post-harvest.

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    The factory is privately owned but has been incorporated as part of a joint JKUAT, Kitui County and European Union Sustainable Transition to Entrepreneurial Production in Agriculture through Upgrading (STEP-UP) project. The program hopes to realise ways of adding value to mangoes; given the usual bulk production over a single season that results in a market glut which as well as poor post-harvest storage methods, leads to losses of up to 50 percent of the fruit produced in the county.

    Sunsweet fruit farm:PO Box-23290200

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