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Mathioya farmers venture into growing exotic herbs

A group of farmers from Mathioya in Murang’a county have found a new way to generate quick cash by planting exotic herbs.

The new venture introduced by Murang’a Agro-preneurship Outreach Programme (MAOP) has created a wave of excitement among residents who have for a long time relied on coffee and tea for their livelihood.

The herbs, among them rosemary, thyme, mint, dill and basil, are largely used due to their aroma and medicinal value all over the world. One of the farmers, Fredrick Muya from Keni, says he had explored many options such as growing maize, tomatoes and vegetable after retiring from teaching.

“None of these crops earned me good returns, which really frustrated me. When I learnt about the herbs nine months ago, I decided to give it a trial and the results were impressive,” he says. He started off by planting two varieties of herbs (rosemary and mint) on a quarter acre piece of land.

At first people, around him could not understand why he was planting the herbs, but after his first harvest, the returns were impressive. “My neighbours laughed at me, thinking I was just growing wild plants. It took time to convince them that the herbs could bring them money too,” he said.

The excitement saw him uproot all the coffee bushes in his farm to create space for more varieties of the herbs on his two- and-a-half acre piece of land part, of which he has turned into a demonstration farm.

“The coffee sector has collapsed and I can no longer rely on it for my livelihood now that I have found something more rewarding,” he says. Strong scent An added advantage of the plant is that it takes a few months to mature and it can be productive for several years.

Muya says this is an opportunity that every farmer in the county should explore to put extra coins in their pocket. On average, he says, rosemary herbs planted on one acre can produce seven tonnes per harvest. Given that a kilogramme is selling on average at Sh200, this translates into Sh1.4 million.

Unlike most other crops, the herbs have a strong scent, which keeps the pests away. They are also more resistant to diseases. “After planting, the herbs require minimal attention apart from weeding and watering,” said Muya.

According to the programme’s coordinator Samuel Kariuki, the initial idea of establishing the project was a response to the high rate of alcoholism among the youth.

“When the programme kicked off, many people sought to be incorporated and we had to open doors for them by creating a bigger forum,” he says.

This meant the initial concept had to be changed. Today, the programme aims at shifting farmers from over reliance on traditional crops, which are no longer fruitful. The choice of herbs was informed by massive subdivision of land, which makes farming uneconomical.

Herbs require a small piece of land and farmers are able to make money every month. On an eighth of an acre, one can earn at least Sh50,000 a month from selling these herbs, according to Kariuki.

He said MAOP has a partnership with Green Blade, which is an affiliate company of Centum Investments, who have provided seedlings and farm inputs and also buy the produce from the farmers.

“We inject the starting capital inform of soft loans, which are recovered gradually from the farmers’ earnings,” said Kariuki. Programme expansion To guarantee quality, extension officers on the ground who monitor the farmers to ensure good farming practices.

“All the herbs that the farmers are producing are being bought by Green Blade, which then processes them for export. There is, therefore, a ready market that farmers need to exploit,” he added.

Kariuki says plans are underway to upscale the programme to reach out to all the farmers in the county. The agribiz project is a lucrative venture for farmers and so far, 400 farmers are involved.

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