By Clifford Akumu
In 2013, Elijah Mbugua a farmer from Ganjoni Ward, Nyandarua County was vastly known for his coriander farming (locally known as dhania).
However, dhania farming did not bring return to the investment,and so his father advised him to try farming fenugreek (methi), but he was unable to get the seeds.
“I was looking for the seeds but neither did I get or have an idea where to get buy.” recalls the father of two.
Fenugreek (trigonella foemon-graecum) is an herb that has long been used by healers as medicinal and galactogogue (to boost milk supply)
Available data indicates that India exported a total of 8, 93, 920 tonnes of spices and spice products valued at Rs.14, 899.68 crore (equivalent of Sh 249,146.95 million) in 2014-15.
Chilli, mint products, cumin, coriander, curry powder and fenugreek contributed substantially to the spice export basket.
In 2013 the EU imported some 533,000 tonnes of spices and herbs valued at € 1.9 billion with imports from developing countries like Kenya accounting for 302,000 tonnes worth € 1 billion.
His fortune changed in early 2014 when he visited Nyahururu open air market.
“I curiously noticed Indians trooping to my neighbor’s stall and coming out with leaflets of a certain plant. When I asked; he told me the herb was methi.I was not convinced, I bought a bunch and took to my father to confirm the truth .” says Mbugua amid laughter.
Three months later, Mbugua bought a kilogram of fenugreek seedlings at Sh500 from an Indian shop in Nakuru town.
“I came back with the seeds and planted in a 50 by 50 ft plot to propagate my own seeds. In that small plot, I was able to get 5kg of the seeds. I got encouraged and planted three quarter of an acre.”
Today, he has ventured into value addition of the herb to maximize returns and increase its shelf life.
“Most farmers around Wanjohi region were selling the leaves. So; I decided to do something different and I have never regretted that decision .” He explains.
He sells his products during agricultural shows, exhibitions and to hotels. A 100 gramme pack of powdered methi goes for Sh200, while a kilogram of the seedlings goes for Sh1, 200
“In a good month for example, I make up to 50,000 from the herb”
With these earnings, Mbugua comfortably takes care of his family’s needs.
“I used to struggle to get school fees, but since I started planting methi my two sons attend Highrise Academy in Nyandarua County with ease.”
To satiate his appetite in methi farming, Mbugua acquired one and a half acre of land in Ngarua division, Laikipia County.
“From this plot, I expect a bumper harvest when I harvest in few weeks” says Mbugua.
Although many families in Kenya are unaware of the numerous medicinal values of methi, Mbugua uses exhibitions and shows to educate the public.
“In a month I attend several exhibitions from all over the country, where I get new customers as well as educating the show attendees on the importance of this herb”
He adds “A part from being used in Indian curry dishes, methi is effective in the treatment of sore throat and Type 2 diabetes. It also helps lower blood cholesterol levels and increase circulation.”
Mbugua explains that methi plant needs moderately cool climate throughout its growth period. For increased yield of fenugreek seeds, he says, the farmer must consider suitable soil pH and cultivate in wide varieties of soils with rich organic matter.
“The seeds needs a soil with pH value of 6.0 to 7.0.Seed sowing should be carried out at 30cm apart in rows with a planting space of 10cm”explains Mbugua
He explains that methi plant takes (3-6 weeks) of growth and can be consumed as a leafy vegetable. At three months, the plant develops seeds and is ready for harvesting.
“Methi matures fast to about two feet (60cm), with yellow/white flowers and long yellow seed pods” he adds.
Although cultivation trials have been conducted in several countries including Kenya, there has emerged no producer large enough to challenge the dominance of the principal exporters in the international market.
“I want to increase my farm to around ten hectare with methi. My prayer is to be among the players in the export market .” He concludes.