A lesson from success story of an onion farmer in Makueni

Sultan Hamud, a town on the Nairobi-Mombasa highway, is once again roaring back to life after the government reverted port operations to Mombasa from Naivasha.

Truck drivers, who give the town its vibrancy are back, boosting all manner of businesses –from food to hotel operators and clothes vendors.

Equally, with the hotels reopening, farmers know it is just a matter of time before their produce flies off the farms.

Bonfrey Kituva is one of the farmers looking forward to better times as business resumes in the town.

Kituva grows onions some 22 kilometres off the highway in Wautu village in Makueni County.

His Red creole variety onions sit on part of his 2.5 acres, which also host his family home, where he keeps indigenous cows and chickens.

“Onions are my main crop as they cover at least one acre. I also farm cabbages and tomatoes,” says the trained accountant who took early retirement in 2012.

He started with growing maize and beans, but a two-week course on farming in arid areas in 2016 made him shift to bulb onions.

“I realised that bulb onions will do well in my area due to sufficient sun and moderate rain. Besides that, they have a ready market and are not attacked by common diseases and pests making them a perfect crop,” he says, adding the crops also need either loam, clay or sandy soils with the pH ranging between 6.0-7.0.

Into the onion project, Kituva ploughed some Sh100,000, with the money going on certified seeds, a water pump and preparing the land.

He first plants the seeds in a nursery on which the soil is well-mixed with cow, goat and chicken droppings.

“I transplant them at eight weeks to the main field, where we plant them in zai pits that measure three by two feet. Each hosts up to 200 plants.”

The pits help to conserve as much moisture as possible as there is minimum evaporation.

He top-dresses the onions with CAN as well as chicken and goat manure for two weeks.

Some of the pests he grapples with are thrips and aphids, which he controls through spraying with pesticides.

“We start harvesting them at three months and since I plant them at various sections at different times, I am able to harvest all the year round.”

Kituva harvests on average 12 tonnes of onions from each of the sections he plants, selling a kilo at Sh70 each.

“I harvest them after three months. They are ready when the leaves start to fall. I loosen the soil around the onion to avoid bruises during harvesting then extract it from the soil.”

He sells the produce to buyers in markets  in Sultan Hamud, Wote and Kasikeu.

“This is good business for a retiree like myself. Over the six years, I have been able to purchase an additional piece of land, construct a permanent house and educate my children, two who have completed university education,” says  Kituva, who employ four workers.

Simon Wagura, a crop and animal production expert and lead consultant at the Country Farm, says semi-arid areas such as Makueni have the best conditions for onion production, including warm temperatures.

“Certified seeds are key in attaining higher yields in onion production. Farmers should also check on the soil fertility to support maximum plant population per unit area,” he adds.

He adds that diseases that can attack bulb onions include mildew, which is fungal, leaf rot, neck rot, rust and bulb rot thus should be controlled during the early stages of development.

Red creole bulb onions are rich sources of folic acid, organic sulphur and phosphorus that are essential to the human body as they act as antioxidants.

“They are also good sources of fibre and chromium that help in the metabolism of fats and proteins, “he adds.

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