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DJ turns tables on virus pain with onion farming

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By IRENE MUGO

The Covid-19 pandemic has handed many people lemons and the optimists are making lemonades out of them.

Alex Gatheru, who goes by the name DJ Leqs in the entertainment circles in Nairobi, is one of the optimists.

With entertainment spots closed to curb the spread of the virus, Gatheru turned to his second passion – farming – to earn a living.

The DJ, who is signed by Kaka Empire, was growing various crops as a telephone farmer in Gatarakwa, Kieni constituency, before the pandemic, but has since fully transited into farming.

His farm, one acre inherited from his parents and three leased, hosts maize, napier grass and the latest addition comprises three varieties of onions namely garlic, bulb and spring.

“I have always had a passion for farming, but my deejaying job kept me in Nairobi, so I farmed through the telephone but would visit the farm once in a while,” he recounts.

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He started onion farming last year, but little did he know that it would turn out to be his lifeline months later.

“The three onion varieties sit on at least three acres but bulb onions occupy the largest space. I grow the Russet F1 variety,” he says.

He says the beauty of onion growing is that they take three to four months to mature.

FOR A GOOD HARVEST

“And with bulb onions, you can harvest, cure and store them for up to six months if prices in the market are not good,” says Gatheru, noting that curing of onion is very important.

For a good harvest, the DJ says he goes for hybrid seeds. 

“I then prepare a nursery bed, add manure and plant the seeds. Onion seeds are very tiny, therefore, they should be planted shallowly. I later transfer the seedlings after a month to an already tilled farm for planting,” he said.

In the field, he spaces the plants 15cm apart, which is alo the case for the spring and garlic onions.

For garlic, he first separates the bulb into cloves and then chooses the large cloves, which he plants.

He does soil testing before planting in order to know how to apply fertiliser and practices crop rotation to curb diseases and for better yields. DJ Leqs says he also  visits other farmers for lessons.

He produces 20-25 tonnes of bulb onions that are currently going for at least Sh100 per kilo, garlic from Sh200 to Sh400 a kilo and spring onion for up to Sh80 a kilo.

“I harvest about five tonnes of garlic and seven to eight tonnes of spring onion. One garlic bulb is made up of smaller pieces known as cloves that are used for growing the crop,” he crops.

According to Gatheru, too much rain or damp soil is not good for onions. He, therefore, uses drip irrigation system, which also saves him water.

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For bulb onions, during harvesting, he normally uproots the plants and leaves them to dry for two weeks, after which the leaves and stem are chopped off with a sharp knife.

His sojourn in onion farming could not have come at a better time, he says, noting that the market is currently favourable following restricted imports due to measures to control Covid-19.

PRICES ARE VERY GOOD

“Prices are very good currently because a kilo is going for between Sh100 and Sh120 at the farm gate and traders are selling at Sh150 to Sh180,” says Gatheru, 29, who uses social media to market his produce and has six workers.

In addition, he personally ferries the produce for sale in Nyeri and is also contracted as a supplier by some hotels in the county. 

So, asked to choose between deejaying and farming, which one would he go for?

“Honestly, I cannot because I love both and I have seen the advantage of not putting eggs in one basket. I have a plan for both since I do deejaying on weekends and at night and visit the farm during weekdays,” he says, adding that he farms the three onion varieties to diversify his earnings. 

John Wambugu, an agronomist at Wambugu Agricultural Training Centre in Nyeri, notes that farmers should consider the crop calendar before planting onions, adding the market should dictate when one should plant.

“One should ensure they have a market for their produce as well as proper infrastructure to transport their produce to buyers. Besides onions, leafy vegetables such as collard greens, spinach and spices such as corriander, capsicum and lettuce are fast-maturing and do well in the market, enabling one to get income faster if they do well,” he says.

He adds that the pandemic has proved that farmers are key essential service providers.

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Tips on farming good onions

  1. Onions grow well in well-drained, fertile, sandy loam, non-compacted soils.
  2. The ideal pH is 5.8 to 6.8. Onion farming is a good venture since it’s possible to grow them throughout the year with irrigation. 
  3. An acre requires 1-1.5kg of seeds, depending on variety and spacing. 
  4. The spacing normally affects the size of the bulb onions. 
  5. Just like other vegetables planted on nursery bed, site selection is key to proper planning for production.

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Expensive thermal electricity output rises to 6.7pc on vandalism

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Economy

Expensive thermal electricity output rises to 6.7pc on vandalism

Energy Cabinet Secretary Charles Keter
Energy Cabinet Secretary Charles Keter. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

Vandalism of a key power line that supplies Nairobi with cheaper electricity from the Naivasha geothermal fields pushed reliance on expensive thermal to an eight-month high in June.

The uptake of the diesel –generated electricity rose to 6.7 percent of the generation mix after steady decline over time to an all-time-low of 4.2 percent in April.

This was due to increased generation from geothermal and an increased uptake from hydro sources due to sufficient rainfall since late last year.

Energy Cabinet Secretary Charles Keter told the Business Daily that the vandals damaged one of the two power lines supplying the city centre in April, prompting the use of thermal energy through an alternative line to keep the city powered.

“That is the line that sources power from Suswa where we have the major substation so when it was damaged in April, we had to use the one from Juja –Dandora-Embakasi to supply the city.

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Thermal became necessary to avoid overloading the transformers in that line. We also had to reduce geothermal supply since this is one of the key lines that evacuate power from the Olkaria Geothermal zone,” Mr Keter said.

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Nairobi is supplied through the 220 kilovolt (Kv) line from the Suswa substation where all generated power is transmitted to first before distribution.

The city also gets its electricity through another line from the Juja substation through the Dandora substation. The move was meant to minimise blackouts in the city.

More uptake of geothermal power was occasioned by the re-routing of two power lines at the Coast region to pave way for the construction of the Sh6.5 billion Kwa Jomvu-Makupa Causeway in Mombasa as the Kibarani area is expanded from two to six lanes.

The move prompted uptake of more thermal to support the remaining 400Kv line from Suswa.

Mr Keter had also told the Senate Standing Committee on energy that the delayed completion of the Olkaria-Lessos-Kisumu transmission line played a role in the increased reliance on the thermal power which affect the cost of power due to the pass through Fuel Cost Charge consumers pay for every unit of power purchased.

The Sh18.2 billion project under construction by the Kenya Electricity Transmission Company (Ketraco) had been stalled for months after wayleave headwinds in Naivasha and Kibos stopped its construction.

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Kenya set for trade talks with Britain

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Kenya set for trade talks with Britain

United Kingdom
United Kingdom Prime Minister Boris Johnson. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

Kenya will soon start negotiations on a second bilateral trade pact with the United Kingdom following its exit from European Union (EU).

The two countries have previously been trading through the EU. However, Kenya lost market access after Britain left the union in what was known as Brexit.

Under the EU, Kenya benefited from duty-free and quota-free market access to all member states for industrial and agricultural products, including beef, fish, dairy, cereals, fresh and processed fruits and vegetables.

The talks mean Kenya and the UK will have to renegotiate the terms for a trade pact.

The announcement comes after the government kicked off negotiations for Kenya-US bilateral agreement on July 8.

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“Kenya will also be launching a bilateral agreement with the United Kingdom following their exit from the EU in the coming days,” said Trade secretary Betty Maina said during the launch of the Sunquick Fruit Drink Concentrate production line at BidCoro Africa last week.

The Brexit heightened debates on its impact on Kenyan trade ties and investments, with analysts claiming it would result in major loses to the country.

Kenyan exports to the UK were recorded at Sh40.08 billion in the 12 months to December 2019, representing 30 per cent of Sh133.39 billion total exports to the EU in the period.

Kenya National Bureau of Statistics data shows the volume of trade between Kenya and EU in the first three months, which excluded the UK after exiting the union in February 2020, was valued at Sh94.35 billion compared to Sh106.13 billion recorded in a similar period in 2019.

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Factories risk fine for illegal tea buying

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Factories risk fine for illegal tea buying

A tea picker in Gathehu Village
A tea picker in Gathehu Village, Nyeri County. PHOTO | JOSEPH KANYI 

Tea factories risk Sh10 million fine for buying and ferrying produce from unregistered small-scale growers in a proposed law that seeks to weed out hawking.

Amendments made to the Tea Bill of 2018 in the National Assembly introduces penalties for factories that buy the commodity from unregistered farmers or dealers.

Those in breach face a fine of Sh10 million, a 10-year jail term or both.

The penalty is expected to limit against tea hawking and theft of the crop in farms, which has ultimately hurt farmers’ earnings.

“A person commits an offence if the person manufactures tea for sale in contravention of this Act, buys, sells, offers for sale, transports or has possession of tea, which to the person’s knowledge or belief has been grown, manufactured or processed otherwise than in accordance with this Act, is from a non-registered grower or dealer of such crop,” says amendments to the Tea Bill.

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“A person who commits an offence under subsection (1) shall be liable, on conviction, to a fine not exceeding ten million shillings or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding five years, or both.”

Tea Bill of 2018 was passed by Senate last year and is now before the National Assembly because it also affects the National government.

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Theft of the tea leaves through break-ins at factories and illegal plucking on the farms are some of the biggest challenges facing the sector.

Farmers in Bomet and Kericho counties have been grappling with theft of tea at night since last year as thieves target the green leaves that are in turn sold to other factories.

Brokers have also been buying the crop from farmers on the cheap for sale to factories, depressing farmers pay.

The stiff penalties come amid growing concerns of farmer exploitation where tea growers continue to grapple with diminishing earnings due to exploitation by unscrupulous traders and factories.

Lawmakers have also directed that tea growers provide all information to the factories to weed out those who have scaled up to growing the crop on large-scale.

The proposal is meant to kick out cartels buy tea from farmers and sell it to factories, purporting it has come from their farms.

Farmers who will fail to provide updated information that includes the size of their farms risk a Sh1 million fine or two years in jail if found in breach of the requirement.

Tea sector has in recent years hit lows mainly on diminishing returns to farmers with the State targeting the giant Kenya Tea Development Agency (KTDA) in reforms meant to increase farmers’ earnings.

President Uhuru Kenyatta earlier in the year ordered an overhaul of the giant KTDA that manages 69 tea factories — processing and selling tea on behalf of the 612,000 small-holder growers affiliated to it.

Lawmakers have also set their eyes on plantation tea farmers and imposed a Sh2 million fine or two years in jail on all growers who fail to register their factories with the yet to be established Tea Board of Kenya.

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