Of Kenya Kales and Collards: Scarcity and Rising Demand

In 2015, kales and collard greens became the new super foods in town. This was according to scientists who discovered new evidence of anti-cancer benefits and antioxidant abilities from the consumption of the fresh leaves. The announcement led to a rising interest in the crop from as far as Boston, Massachusetts and New York on the East Coast of the United States. For instance, during the hurricane season in 2016, consumers had to grapple with stocks of ‘sukuma wiki’ that seemingly diminished overnight. Currently, the US does not accept Kenya kales other than those grown under specified terms.

Kenya kales and collards grow mainly in the Central highlands for home use. The commercial farming areas include Kiambu, near Nairobi and Nyandarua next to the Aberdares. The two parts of the country provide Nairobi and Mombasa customers with the greens everyday. Middlemen comb these areas where other vegetables like cabbages, green peas and spinach also thrive. They buy them in sacks of 60 to 70 kilograms for bulk transportation to the capital.

In February 2018, the country was hit by a sharp rise in demand with an equally biting shortage of kales and collards. In Kisii in Western Kenya, a traditional producer of the crop, family growers found insatiable demand even as prices went up by 400%. For instance, a gunny bag of  60 kilogram cost KSH3500 ($35) from the usual selling price of around KSH800 ($8). This has generated a cross-border trade from neighboring counties that grow irrigated sukuma wiki including Narok.

This is despite the fact that kales and collards are perhaps the most accessible in any farm around Kenya. They grow in small patches of land, and are a daily emblem of the local diet known as ‘ugali.’ They are some of the most vitamin C-endowed greens with a 200 percent daily value, which helps families fight diseases. Their vitamin A content is also legendary at 199% of the daily value. This is why every homestead in rural Kenya and even urban areas keeps a plot for watering the greens daily.

Export Markets

The main markets of sukuma wiki from Kenya are controlled by multinational groceries in the US, the UK and the Netherlands. The reason for this direct involvement is to maintain minimum residual levels especially in strict markets like the US. These supermarkets invest directly with farmers in mainly Central Kenya to supply them with the greens. For instance, Sainsbury from England has a project in the Central parts of the country for kales supply. In 2016, the authorities in Nyeri which is sandwiched between the Aberdares and Mount Kenya sealed a deal with US-based trade partners to supply the latter with kales and collards.

Local Markets

In Kenya, the easiest places to get the green leaves without spending an extra dime is Nakuru in the heart of the Rift Valley. A 50 kilo sack in the town goes for an average KSH800. This is KSH300 lower than the median price in the rest of Kenya. In Kisii, sukuma wiki is available without charge as a main course garnish in major hotels in this market town, apart from times of shortage when a plate costs KSH70 ( $0.7). Mombasa usually has the highest prices due to the demand for an otherwise non-agricultural county.

In short, the rise of kales and collard greens as super foods has ignited a high demand in most parts of the country. While the crop is available freely in some parts during times of low demand, it peaks at four hundred times over its traditional sale value during low supply. There is also the growing interest in international companies that seek to grow for themselves to meet Western requirements. It is just a matter of time before local growers learn to maintain organic cultivation of the vegetables to open up major markets like the United States.