- According to the Export Promotion Council, the EU market is the second largest market in the world for seasonings, spices and herbs, accounting for 1.2 billion euros.
- "The Covid-19 pandemic also increased demand for herbs as more Kenyans sought to boost their immunity,” Gitau said.
The increasing trend for a healthy lifestyle and the need to boost immunity due to the Covid-19 pandemic has raised demand for herbs and spices.
The number of farmers in Kiambu county growing herbs and spices as their main economic crop has also increased.
Over the years, tea and coffee have been Kiambu’s high value crops despite the two crops' fortunes dwindling due to poor returns.
William Gitau, 38, from Lari in Kiambu said with diminishing land in the region, they can now cultivate the crops in small spaces and still get enough yield to sustain their livelihoods.
“A quarter an acre can produce up to 300 kilos of herbs and spices with a framer earning about Sh60,000 monthly. Our main market is people suffering from lifestyle diseases.
"The Covid-19 pandemic also increased demand for herbs as more Kenyans sought to boost their immunity,” he said.
Gitau from Helicase organisation, a community based organisation focusing on herbs and spice production, said they started the organisation to provide opportunities for the youth in agribusiness.
“We have many young people who have gone to college and yet they do not get jobs, we came up with programme to help them venture into agribusiness,” Gitau said during a field visit to his farm last week.
He added that they have majored in the production of herbs and spices and have 27 varieties.
The agri-entrepreneur said interested farmers learn the whole value chain including production, processing and packaging.
They also run a healthy workshop and shop where one can pick any dry herb and use them for cooking or even juicing at home.
Gitau said other farming activities include indigenous vegetables and fruits that grow naturally.
Some of them include mexican gold, dandelion and black jack saget which should be included in the daily meals as they come loaded with good health benefits.
He said the market is not a challenge since they have been working under Participatory Ecological Land Use Management and Kenya Organic Agriculture Network, which link them to good marketing platforms.
The two ecological farming lobby groups also link the young farmers with producers and consumers and create awareness on the importance and health benefits of the herbs and spices.
“There has been a shift after the Covid-19 hit us, before then there was a lot of stereotyping on herbs and spices. After Covid-19, everyone wanted to boost their immunity so people started using herbs.
"Now it has become a culture. For us, the pandemic was a blessing in disguise. Most of our customers are those who struggle with non-communicable diseases and those who want to eat healthy,” Gitau said.
“One of our main herb is the orange thyme, we produce around 300kgs per month. We sell a kilo at Sh200 and make around Sh60,000. We harvest throughout the year and when you do the calculations it is a profitable venture,” he said.
Some of the main herbs that rake good money include the orange thyme, tropical mint, oregano and stevia—a sugar substitute.
The Market Access Upgrade Programme by the European Union in partnership with the United Nations- Industrial Development Organisation said the herbs and spices value chain has its challenges.
They include lack of networking arrangement between small scale producers and medium and large scale exporters/producers and weak farmer organisation structures, especially in small-scale production.
This is in addition to lack of suitable finance and credit facilities to farmers, inadequate good quality seed and other planting materials and farm inputs.
According to the Export Promotion Council, the EU market is the second largest market in the world for seasonings, spices and herbs, accounting for 1.2 billion euros which translates to Sh153 billion.
(Edited by Bilha Makokha)