Kenyan farmer finds export markets and fortunes growing herbs and spices

Workers tend to the herbs at Tangla Gardens

In Siaya County, western Kenya, an agricultural revolution is taking shape, spearheaded by a former civil servant who has transformed swathes of traditionally uncultivated land into an oasis of herbs and spices. The cultivation of herbs and spices has conquered international markets while creating a new agricultural renaissance in a region traditionally synonymous with the cultivation of low-yielding traditional crops like corn and beans. It’s a revolution that has now attracted cardiologists, engineers and lecturers who are now trying their hand at herbalism.

Mr. Joseph Opondo, the director of Tangla Gardens, who has worked for nearly 40 years in public service, had a light bulb moment after years of travel which exposed him to modern agriculture while showing him the gaping gap between production and demand of the herbs and spices market which is estimated to be around $79 billion in 2022 and is expected to reach $126 billion by the end of 2023.

He rented a bushy land and started the journey of growing herbs and spices in August 2021. With the help of agronomists, he set aside 8 ha to cultivate a basket of herbs among which Oregano, Thyme , basil, chives, parsley, sage, peppermint, coriander, rosemary, French tarragon, flat-leaf parsley lemon balm, lemongrass and garlic.

With the farming of high-value crops requiring specialized training, Tangla Gardens enlisted the services of the National Youth Service, NYS, an organization of the Government of Kenya that trains young people in various skills of national importance. The six NYS graduates who were trained in agriculture manage the farm and have played a central role in transferring knowledge to the local workforce, the majority of whom are women. Staff have received theoretical and practical training in herb cultivation, including planting, bed maintenance, manicure spacing, weeding, irrigation harvesting and packing. With the new job, they are guaranteed to support the household and pay school fees for their children.

The women not only earn income by tending the farm, but have even formed their own social welfare group called Tangla Smart Self Help Group to grow their economic fortunes.

They save and offer each other loans through a credit model called table banking where they finance each other and act as guarantors for each other.

“I haven’t had a steady job for a long time. But growing herbs in Tangla’s gardens has given me job security and enabled me to support my family and pay the bills. school fees for my children. I also received training on new era agriculture which I hope to apply on my farm,” said Justine Awino, one of the workers at Tangla Gardens.

The farm has also opened its doors to agricultural students who are on an industrial internship to improve their skills.

This has been the farm’s contribution to the country’s socio-economic development and GDP while overcoming the challenges associated with the youth bulge and desperation due to lack of employment.

“We are guided by the mantra ‘Think Tangla, think opportunity.’ The herb and spice farming revolution we have initiated in a region traditionally considered dry aims to motivate more farmers to adopt high-yielding, high-value crops that will give them more yields and empower them. economically. We have shown that it can be done, and it is our response to the government’s call to take our own initiative to address food insecurity,” said Joseph.

Tangla Gardens has strived to maintain the highest levels of good agricultural practice, environmental sustainability through judicious use of water through drip irrigation, pot-filling to mitigate soil erosion and training of its 25 workers in sustainable agricultural practices.

As a result, the company has obtained Global GAP certification for the environment and good agricultural practices.

“The Siaya region has very good soil and fertile land, local youth and women who can be trained, availability of unused land for agriculture, availability of water to cultivate throughout the year and proximity to the airport, which makes it very ideal for growing for export. These factors have placed Tanga Garden in pole position to be a pioneer exporter of herbs and spices from Western Kenya. We are happy that it is taking shape,” said Simon Andys, Agronomist and Founder of Premier Seed, a leader in vegetable seed distribution, agronomic support and the herb trade. Simon was the expert behind transforming Tangla Gardens into a powerhouse of herbs and spices.

To satisfy the insatiable appetite for herbs, especially in the European market, Tangla Gardens has already shipped chives, thyme, mint, peppermint, rosemary and oregano to the Netherlands and strives to deliver more orders in Italy and the rest of Europe.

The company is also in talks with Inspira Farms, a company that works with agribusinesses and exporters on cold chain solutions to build a modern packing station to speed up the sorting and packaging of herbs. The company is also counting on the proximity of Kisumu International Airport to increase export volumes.

Joseph draws his inspiration from the eagle that soars in search of opportunities while defying many obstacles. This is evident in the many mementos that adorn his desk, from eagle-shaped pen holders to mugs with eagle engravings. Its growth strategy is clear: “There is a growing demand for these spices and herbs, particularly from a growing health-conscious middle class and we are preparing to meet this growing demand by increasing the variety of grasses and the production area. We want the world to benefit from freshly grown herbs from this side of Africa, even as we contribute to the overall health of the citizens of the world. We respond to market needs,” added Joseph.