Of Kenya Basil and What the International Market Wants

It may not seem as flavory as the aromatic rosemary, but the bright green-leaved basil herb has become a major export from Kenya. The plant, made up of squarish, multiple sets of stems with alternating leaves, pointed flowers and dark seeds, has become a market staple for culinary needs. Indeed, demand is more than supply. For instance, in the Rift Valley, small groups of farmers produce just over a fifth of the total orders  per importer.  Therefore, getting handy with the knowledge about exactly what the market needs not only helps ensure quantity but quality parameters.

Easily one of the most sought after herbs, basil grows in Kenya in various cool parts of the country in organic or greenhouse farming. Either way, the plant is usually ready for the market  just shy of a month and a half after transplanting. It then gives the farmers a window to harvest for several weeks at 10 days apart.

In Nakuru, local family growers have raked in thousands of dollars per cooperative due to knowledge on what their importers need. They grow the best-selling Sweet Aroma 3. This is a variety that goes directly to hot pots across the world. Chefs love the variety because it has a pronounced nuance to its spiciness.

What varieties are there?

Sweet basil remains the main attraction for restaurants and most farmers in Kenya have begun growing it. It has big leaves and reaches three feet tall. Lemon basil, on its part, alongside dwarf basil only reaches just 1 foot in both vertical size and horizontal breadth of the leaves. Interesting cultivars range from Dark Opal, with its scarlet-purple flowers as opposed to the common white of the major varieties.

How does it Sell?

A kilogram of Kenya basil retails at an average $5 though this fluctuates by season. It does not take much portion of land to be productive. A small plot of land measuring 40 meters squared can produce roughly 450 kilos the entire month even if a farmer reaps weekly. This comes up to over $2000.

How do the crops grow?

In organic farming, little use of artificial fertilizers and pesticide is key. Farmers from Kenya get certificates from KenyaGAP(Good Agricultural Practices) which recommends their farming methods. A team from GAP gives frequent training to the family growers so that they adhere to organic growth that meets minimum residual levels (MRLs). In actual planting, basil growing usually follows these steps:

1. Get certified seeds, especially Sweet Aroma 3 and sow them in an interior environment.

2. The seedlings can then be transplanted outside when the soil temperature is a cool 10° Celsius.The soil also ought to be of good drainage and well saturated with water.

3. Digging holes shallowly at a quarter of an inch helps basil to get the nutrients available on the top soil. The best distance from one crop to the next is at least 10 inches.

4. Places like Meru and Nakuru meet the hot and wet patterns of growing basil as the crop needs six to eight hours daily of direct sunshine and plenty of water. Thus, irrigation is an option in the drier areas.

5. Basil matures in 42 days when the plant is at least six inches and above in height for the dwarf variety.

What are the harvesting needs for Basil?

Most importers go for fresh cut basil, which has undergone a labor-intensive process. This entails the use of sickles that harvest leaf sets that are slightly above the last two leaf sets off the ground. Kenya basil farmers usually place the fresh cut leaves onto a bag ready for packing in bunches.  Depending on the importer’s specifications, the bunches can vary from several to multiple leaves. The same applies to weight and stem length.

Exporting Basil from Kenya

The main markets for Kenya basil is the European Union. Figures for 2013 show that the region made imports of the herb totaling 1 billion Euro. By country, the UK, Germany, Denmark, Norway, Sweden and Holland are the main recipients of the produce.

Thus, if you are one for aromatic fresh herbs from Kenya, consider basil. With the growing attention for the plant’s antioxidants that fight free radicals that cause cancer, basil and its essential oil have become market attractions. It also has loads of minerals like magnesium for nurturing metabolic processes and maintaining bone heath. So are its vitamins like K for fast wound healing as it enhances blood clotting.