Growing specialty crops is the perfect way to turn your gardening skills and knowledge into extra income. Unlike commonly grown crops like grain and vegetables, specialty crops are not widely grown and bring higher prices for growers
All of the 10 specialty crops listed in this article are easy to grow and produce above average income from a small plot of land. Best of all, most of them can be grown without working full-time. If you can spare just a few hours a week, and some money for seeds or seedlings and supplies, you can grow any one of these profitable plants. Here are ten specialty crops worth growing:
- Gourmet mushrooms. Mushrooms are an ideal specialty crop for urban farmers, as they are grown indoors and produce a very high return per square foot. The two most widely grown gourmet mushrooms are oyster and shiitake, which are available fresh or dried in many grocery stores. Mushroom production of late has captured the attention of the Kenya’s farming community with most mushroom farmers boasting amazing profits. Mushroom are land and rainfall independent hence making them the better option for those looking to maximise revenue from their land usage. For those without space to garden, growing mushrooms for profit can produce a great return in a small space. Exotic mushrooms, such as oyster and shiitake, make sense, as they can be grown indoors without soil. They only require a house and your attention. Mud thatched houses can create the right climate for mushroom growing. The demand in Kenya is unsatisfied with data indicating that we are only producing 500 tonnes of these mushrooms against an annual demand of 1,200 tonnes. Mushrooms can be grown using various substrates from agricultural wastes such as cereal straws such as maize stalks, bean stalk, wheat straw Coffee pulp, coffee husks, paper waste, papyrus, water hyacinth, banana fronds etc. Cotton husks, maize cobs, banana leaves, papyrus, grass straw, paper wastes, sugarcane bagasse and hay. Spawns ‘seeds’ can be easily obtained from Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture, Science and Technology (JKUAT). Oyster mushrooms, for example, produce around 10kg per square foot of growing space in a year’s time. At the current price of Sh300 a kilo, that’s Sh300,000 worth of mushrooms from a 10’x10′ space! Exotic mushrooms do not travel well, so as a small local grower you will always have an edge over distant producers. In most supermarkets, the oyster mushrooms are also the first items to sell out. Before, mushroom farming has been a very complicated venture requiring lots of chemistry, biology and attention. This made it a no-go-zone for the small-scale farmers. However, there continuous seminars and workshops by JKUAT which can make you a master.
- Bamboo: This amazing plant, a member of the grass family, has long been a landscaping favorite, as landscapers can pick a species of bamboo ranging from dwarf Sasa bamboo that is barely a foot tall, to giant timber bamboo that can reach 75 feet in height. By growing container bamboo for landscapers and homeowners, digging is eliminated, and the plants take up far less space. In fact, over 600 bamboo plants in 5-gallon pots can be grown in a 30′ x 40′ space.
- Passion: If you are looking for a high-value crop that can produce an income in the first year, take a look at passion fruit farming. Passion fruit farming has nearly unlimited possibilities from extended life span exceeding three years after establishment to ability to intercrop. It doesn’t cost much to start growing passions for profit either — just a few shillings for seedlings and supplies. Demand for passion fruits is set to rise even more, due to changing consumer preferences as Kenyans move from carbonated soft drinks to fresh juices. Furthermore, brands like Coca-cola, Afia juices, Del-Monte are already sourcing various fruits from farmers to tap fresh fruits processing segments. Despite all the interest by fresh drink processors, the supply of this fruit is scarce. This presents an opportunity for you as a farmer. The crop produces high yields under proper care, for instance, a yield of 50,000kg of passion fruit per hectare has been reported in Kenya. The average price of one kilo of passion fruits is Sh50 in various market centres in the country. However, you can can still sell at a higher price through direct marketing. From one hectare, it’s possible to earn over Sh2,000,000; an earning that exceeds many other farming enterprises.
- Straw berries: The demand for strawberries is bursting at the seams and the supply is low. This is because of the strawberry flavour from yoghurt, ice-creams, and jams and in perfumes. Companies that use these fruits are relying on imports this is sufficient justification why strawberry farming is and will remain lucrative agribusiness in the years to come. Strawberries can grow in almost every part of our country provided there is constant water supply and stable temperature. A one eighth of an acre would be adequate for a beginner but if you are in an urban setting you can invest in a few containers (which you can then put in your backyard) and start farming. It takes about 70 days for the crop to mature and produce the first fruits. But because the fruits are highly perishable (stays fresh for four to five days after harvesting), it is advisable to start looking for market early enough to avoid incurring losses. An eighth piece of land can produce between 30kg and 50kg of strawberries per week and each kilo goes for about Sh200 at the current market price. Now assuming your small farm produces 50Kgs per week then that means you can make Sh40,000 per month using only a small portion of your land. Once you plant them, 70 days down the line you will get your first harvest. This will continue for up to three years with two to three harvesting seasons every year. Like any other business with attractive returns, strawberry farming in Kenya requires capital. Chandler is the most popular variety. Strawberries are runners, so once you plant, you do not need to buy other seedlings as you can propagate them by removing the splits from the parent plant.
- Onions: Although the onion has played second fiddle to conventionally cultivated crops, it might just be the next big thing in 2016. It is a goldmine waiting to be exploited. It can answer your perennial cash difficulties since its commercial potential is enormous. A net of onions weighing between 13-14kg fetches Sh900 on average or Sh70 per kg. With proper management a hectare of land can fetch between 14 to 17 tonne. Do the calculation. To obtain even higher returns you can use F1 varieties which have a harvest potential of up to 23 tonnes in a hectare. Most of these varieties only take three months to maturity which makes it possible to cultivate the crop for up to three times in a year. This is in contrast to other crops which can only be cultivated once or twice in a year. These should be your favourite profitable crops, as they all enjoy strong demand year after year, yet can be grown by anyone who has, or can learn a few basic gardening skills.
- Garlic: Garlic is a high value horticultural crop. It is part of the onion family. Garlic is loved for its flavor in food and health benefits. It does well in its optimum conditions and good care. Garlic takes about 6 months to harvest. A ¼ acre of land can give you about 2.5 tons yield of garlic bulb selling at a farm gate price of around Ksh150/kg. There is demand from both the local and export market. Garlic requires adequate skills, training and good research to be successful. You’ll need to understand the local varieties, get certified seeds, good soil and best environment. Growing organic garlic is preferred especially for the export market.
- Dhania: The strong demand for aromatic foods in Kenya has brought smiley faces for a couple of farmers who are dumping the growing of the traditional crops and choosing spicy herbs instead. Such herbs include coriander (Dhania), lemon grass, and hibiscus among others. The international demand for such herbs has gone up by 40% with farmers gaining more revenues of up to 25% than the traditional crops . Locally, the demand for coriander just like other vegetables such as the kale, carrots, tomatoes and spinach is also growing. Coriander is easy to plant and take care of. If planted for their sweet spicy leaves, you will only need a month and half to experience your return on investments but for seeds, you will need 3 to 4 months. It will cost you Ksh 1000 on seeds per plot of almost an acre of land to fully obtain maximum yield and a bit of intensive labor especially during planting and harvesting.An acre of coriander farm can give you a Ksh 40,000-rich smile monthly as long as you take care of your plants. By taking care implies avoiding fertilizer and strictly going green with manure for strong vigor. No spraying of chemicals is needed. The coriander trends indicate that their supply peak a month along the onset of rainy seasons. During this peak seasons the prices average at about Ksh 90 per kg with towns like Kisumu recording the highest prices of more than Ksh 100 per kg. For towns like Nairobi, the prices for coriander are still season based but not to that great extent. Majority of farmers of this short season crop are practicing green house farming with lots of irrigation around Nairobi area maintaining the steady supply all year round.
- Tomato and Pilipili Hoho: Though not really a specialty crop, we put tomato here because the market demand is always high in Kenya. This explains why tomato farming in Kenya is such a profitable business idea. Tomatoes grow very fast. Most tomato varieties in Kenya such as the Anna F1 reach maturity 60-75 days after transplanting. A well grown tomato fruit can weigh more than 150 grams and give a yield of more than 30 tonnes per acre. One can eat the tomatoes while fresh, cook them as vegetables, add to salads or get the processed tomatoes. Provide warm conditions with average humidity to make more money with tomato farming in Kenya. Extremely high temperatures will lead to lower yields. In addition, excessive humidity will increase susceptibility to tomato diseases such as the bacterial wilt. Tomatoes belong to the Solanaceae (Nightshade family) together with pilipili hoho. Avoid planting tomatoes (including the nursery) where the other members of the Nightshade family have previously been grown within the last 3 years. They include capsicum (peppers), potatoes, and eggplants. This is to reduce the risk of various Nightshade-family diseases such as the Fusarium wilt.
- Chia:This is the latest money maker. The seeds have become popular due to their immense benefits. Chia is one of the most nutritious foods you will ever come across. It is rich in proteins, Omega 3 fats and a dozen of other nutrients that include calcium, manganese, and phosphorus. Those who are growing the crop are doing it on trial and error basis relying on information from the internet. Prof Richard Mulwa, a horticulture expert from Egerton University notes that chia is an annual herb that grows up to a metre high with purple or white flowers produced in numerous clusters in a spike at the end of each stem. It is grown commercially in the US, Bolivia, Argentina, Ecuador, Nicaragua, Guatemala, Australia and Mexico for its seeds that are rich in Omega-3 fatty acids. The seeds yield 25 to 30 percent extractable oil that includes alpha-linolenic acid (ALA). Soaked seeds develop a mucilaginous gel-like coating that gives chia-based beverages a distinctive slimy texture. “This crop has not been officially introduced in Kenya and, therefore, finding quality seeds may be difficult,” he says.
- Pepino: We featured this in our article in last month issue. esides the local market, the crop has a very good market in Europe and Japan. The questions people are asking are what is this fruit and why all the hype surrounding it introduction and integration to the Kenyan market? The Pepino melon (solanum muritacum) is an herbaceous Andean fruit grown mainly for its juicy and aromatic fruits. It has leaves resembling those plants and if left un-pruned grows into a low dense bush and has more a scrambling nature like a determinate tomato. It originated from the South America but can thrive well in tropical climate of Kenya and its soils. The fruit is typically a bright green or yellow green and often has some red or purple striations. The flesh is golden yellow when ripe with a narrow seed cavity. The melon is entirely edible; skin, flesh and seeds. The fruit is very sweet and juicy.