By JOSEPH MUSYIMI
With an exception of onions and chilies, herbs and spices remain unexploited in Kenya with processing companies having to rely on imports mainly from India and Zanzibar, a 2012 validated report by the Horticultural Crops Development Authority (HCDA) indicates.
In 2012, the sub-sector contributed kshs.4.9 billion accounting for less than 2 per cent of the total value of the domestic horticulture. Same year, the area under herbs and spices was 17,301 acres with a production of 152 tonnes.
Herbs and spices such as garlic is a viable rotational crop for production under green house. Cultivation of herbs and spices is dominated by smallholder farmers. Onion was the largest contributor to this sub- sector with 62 per cent followed by spring onion, bixa and garlic.
Challenges facing this sub- sector include; the unavailability of quality planting materials, uncompetitive products, and limited production knowledge. However there is increasing demand for herbs and spices. In addition there is favorable climate for growing a wide range of herbs and spices across the country.
On the other hand, medicinal and aromatic plants comprise mainly of crops cultivated for their attributes. Other cops under this category do not have medicinal attributes rather they are natural dyes which can be used commercially in the food and textile industries.
During the year under review, medicinal and aromatic plants contributed KSh 429.3 million accounting for less than 1 per cent of the total domestic value of horticulture. Currently there are 7,004 acres under cultivation with a production of 15,034 tonnes.
Major challenges to the growth of this sub-sector include; inadequate quality of planting materials, inadequate knowledge among extension service providers. The Arid and Semi-Arid lands with favorable climate for this sub-sector across the country remain unexploited.
Some of the most common herbs, spices, medicinal and aromatic plants include; green bunching onions(allium fistulosum), bulb onions(allium cepa L), African bird eye chili(capsicum frutescens),Long cayenne(capsicum annum), bullet chillies (capsicum annum), coriander (coriandrum), garlic (allium sativum), leeks (allium ampeloprasum), moringa(moringaoleifera), cucri, ginger, jatropha, rosemary and Bixa(bixaorellana).
Others are stinging nettle (urticadioica), stevia (stevia rebaudiana), aloe Vera, bitter leaf (vernonia), bitter orange, guava, papaya, xylopiaaethiopica, basil, cinnamon (Cinnamonumverum), sage, lavender, black pepper, dill and thyme.