How profitable is spinach farming in Kenya?

Spinach is a common leafy vegetable in the East African region.  It’s widely marketed in all her urban markets and is consumed cooked, raw or its juice extracted and drank as a herbal tea.  The crop is rich in fibre, iron, calcium folic acid and vitamins A, C and K.

Given the crops high demand, you can commercially grow it together with “sukumawiki” and other indigenous leafy vegetables. Spinach does well in various agro-ecological zones, whether in an open field, under greenhouses or sacks on one’s balcony or rooftop. But how much money can you make growing in an acre?

Based on the spinach yield per acre in Kenya, we will determine the profit per acre after deducting all costs. In this detailed profit analysis, we determine expected revenue using an average price and expected yield. We also detail your costs to source farm inputs, labour and land. The article concludes with tips on how to rake more profits from spinach farming in Kenya.

Assumptions

  • This profit analysis assumes a constant contracted price of Ksh 14 throughout the harvesting period. Assume the cost of farm inputs and labour is constant and reflects the prevailing costs in the most productive spinach regions of Kenya.
  • This is purely commercial farming, hence budget for every item including composted manure, land and labour.  You can access these freely as a farmer. The simple marginal analysis also assumes there are no post-harvest losses.
  • This analysis is for the Ford Hook Giant spinach variety grown in an open field cultivation system without irrigation.

Detailed Revenue Analysis.

To determine the revenue you can get from growing and marketing spinach in Kenya, you need to get the yields in kilograms and selling price per kilogram.

Variety selection.

There are various varieties of spinach and Swiss chards that do well in Kenya. These include the King of Denmark, New Zealand, Bloomsdale Long Standing, Giant Noble, Early Hybrid No. 7 and the Ford Hook Giant.

This analysis is for the ford hook giant cultivar. This variety is a good choice since it does well in a wide range of environments. You can grow it in Kenyan highlands, rift valley, coastal and western regions. It grows up to 75 cm and a single plant can yield 48 kg per season. Unlike other cultivars bred in the country, ford hook giant matures in around 7 weeks and can be refrigerated for a week and a half. 

Total yields.

Ford hook giant can’t yield 15 tonnes to 30 tonnes per acre under proper crop care. However, most farmers cannot achieve this because of differences in spacing, soil characteristics, water availability, and other factors.

Assuming a conventional spacing of 60 cm by 45 cm in a rainfall ample area, you would get around 28,000 plants per acre.  Assuming a conservative yield scenario. At least 50% of plants survive, and each plant yielded 25% of 48 kg potential, your total harvest would be around 16 tonnes in one season.

Gross income.

 Selling your spinach at a stable price of Ksh 14 per kg will generate Ksh 224,000 from one acre. This assumes there are no post-harvest losses, and you sell all produce.

Detailed Cost analysis.

Growing green vegetables requires heavy investments in;

Seed selection and seedlings establishment.

You can directly plant spinach seeds in the field or raise seedlings in a nursery for later transplanting. You will require to buy seeds, water crops, thinning and other associated activities to raise healthy and strong seedlings. An alternative is buying mature seedlings from a certified seed propagator.

Soil and pathological testing.

Swiss chard does well in sandy to loam soils. The soils have to be well-drained with a soil PH of 6 and 6.8. The vegetable requires an adequate supply of nitrogen, phosphates, and potassium nutrients for optimal production.  To determine your soil characteristics you will need to carry out soil testing.

Some spinach pests and pathogens may be present in the soil. Carry out a pathological test to determine your soil if free of any pest and diseases before planting.

Both soil and pathological testing can be outsourced to private or public soil testing service providers. A cheaper way is DIY at home. To do this, buy digital soil testing kits online.

Land Preparation

You will incur costs of renting land, ploughing, and harrowing. You require additional cash for levelling the field and making ditches.

Renting land for one season costs around Ksh 12,000.  Key Factors influencing the price are proximity to road and availability of a permanent water source.

You can plough and harrow your land using a tractor or manually. Both incur the same cost. However, mechanised land preparation using a tractor is faster. When done at the right time, it is beneficial in the solarisation process to kill soil pests through exposure in the hot sun.

Crop Nutrition/ fertilizers.

As earlier outlined, spinach performs best in well-tilled and watered soils rich in nitrogen, phosphates and potassium nutrients. Spinach does well in well-drained soils. Use at least seven tonnes of well-decomposed manure. The cost is around Ksh 2000 per tonne. For mixed farmers, they can compost their manure from dairy and beef cows. To boost crop nutrition, apply fertilizers during planting and top-dress after a few days.

Each spinach crop required a teaspoonful of DAP or TSP fertilizer while transplanting. After  3 weeks, add a teaspoonful of CAN fertilizer to each plant. You will require 2 bags of these fertilizers brand to cover the one acre. The prevailing costs of these fertilizers are Ksh.3000 to Ksh. 3500 per bag.

Apply a foliar fertilizer after the first three harvests to promote vegetative bloom.

It is advisable to carry out a soil test before planting to establish your fertilizer needs.

Crop protection.

There are various spinach pests and diseases rampant in Kenya. The common pests include; Nematodes, Snails, Cutworms, Aphids, Slugs, Lopper, Leaf Miners and caterpillars. Diseases include Leaf spot, Spinach Blight, Mosaic virus, Downy Mildew, Curly top, White Rust and Powdery Mildew.

To control these, you will need to spray various farm chemicals.  As stated in the gross marginal analysis, the average cost of this pest control measures would be around Ksh 11,500 to buy fungicides, pesticides, herbicides and biostimulants.

Labour costs.

You will require at least 300 man-days to plant, grow, and harvest your spinach in an acre. You require additional labour in sorting and grading spinach at the marketing stage. In crop management, you need labour in planting, weeding and thinning as well as fertilizer application. Others are the cost of spraying farm chemicals and making furrows.

Marketing and Other costs.

Other costs you will incur as a spinach farmer are communication, transport and scouting costs. As you access markets, you will pay cess, levies and taxation to local and national government authorities.

Profitability analysis.

As outlined, you will incur an approximate cost of Ksh 133,590 to grow spinach in one acre.

To determine profits, deduct this from the gross income of Ksh 224,000 determined in the revenue section. You can make a profit of Ksh. 90,410 per acre in a conventional scenario. If your plants’ yield performance is on average (20 tonnes) or best scenarios (30 tonnes) you can make more money.

To determine your gross margin analysis per unit area of Metre squared. We find you will make a profit of Ksh 22 per M2.

Tips for improving profits in spinach farming.

Kenyan spinach farmers can earn more profits by cost-cutting tips or attracting better prices. Most tips are like tips for profitable kales farming in Kenya. Besides, they can observe the following;

To cut costs;
  • Observe the integrated pest management practises to reduce the cost of pest control.
  • Practise large scale farming. As stated in the analysis below, you will make around Ksh 32 per M2 if you grew spinach in 2 acres as compared to Ksh 22 per M2 if you grew them in one acre.
  • You may require irrigation from time to time, depending on prevailing weather. To establish the level of water stress use a moisture sensor or detectors.  Invest in water-efficient irrigation methods such as drip irrigation kits to reduce the cost of water.
To attract higher selling prices;
  • Consistent production through staggered planting. This way you can harvest Swiss chard daily. This consistent supply will ensure buyers rely on your supply, which might guarantee you higher selling prices.
  • Negotiate for a higher contracted price to make more money per kilogram of spinach.
  • Add the value of spinach before the sale by drying, packaging, canning and extracting juice. Processed products fetch higher prices than fresh leaves.
  • Diversify your leafy vegetable farming by planting spinach alongside kales and traditional African vegetables such as “managu”, “mitoo” and “saga”.

Samuel K

Samuel Kibicho is passionate about profitable and safe agriculture as a tool for wealth creation and food security. He is the founder of Agcenture and consults in market systems development (MSD), program management and result measurement, monitoring and evaluation for sustainable agriculture & rural development projects.

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