French beans (mishiris)are one of the crops dominating Kenya’s export market with a low local consumption rate. Production of these mishiris is primarily done in warm areas such as Machakos, Thika, Murang'a, Kirinyaga, Naivasha, Nyeri and Embu with the common varieties in the Kenyan market being Amy, Teresa,Samantha, Serengeti Julia and Paulista.
A major outlet for these French beans is the European Union market. And with their weather patterns, the export market in Kenya falls into two major seasons:
The low demand season This runs mostly from June to September every year. It is characterized by lots of supply from those who produce with the long rains and low demand from the EU market as they can produce their own by then. The results from this scenario is one every risk averse farmer should really avoid. The prices are usually low ranging from Ksh 20 to 50 per kg or simply fail to get any market for your produce. This is likely because of the rejections which are part of the menu in this industry. Also, there are a lot of quota issues where companies can choose to buy a certain amount from you leaving you with lots of French beans to feed on.
The high demand season. This usually runs from September to around March. During this period, EU markets are faced with winter and their only option is to import and that is when Kenyan farmers find a gold mine. The major supply during this period is mainly from irrigation hence the supply is typically low. Prices range from Ksh 60 to 80 per kg. If things go south like in 2012 when there was a frost effect, farmers who survived it sold a kilo at Ksh 250. The export companies were looking for them like the Malaysian plane.
Growing these beans requires a lot of dedication and capital especially if you are targeting the high season. There are four major stages which are highly sensitive in the growing process; germination, flowering, fruiting and lastly harvesting. You will have to part ways with approximately Ksh 125,800 for just an acre of French bean production.
This is a simple cost plan for French beans (using the maximum figures- since costs may vary from location to location):
Cost can be minimised especially if you are totally on rain-fed agriculture and you have your own piece of land. Also if the land is new (not highly overused), some fertilisers and pesticides won’t be necessary.
An acre of land should give you 6 tons of French beans within 2 ½ months. For the two seasons, gross margins will be as follows:
Harvesting is usually done twice a week for the fine beans and three times a week for the extra fine beans. This continues for around three weeks. A major setback is rejection of your produce if they do not meet the set quality standards. You end up regretting why you even thought of the idea.
To conclude, growing French beans can bring cash quickly but only if you play your cards right. It is very likely to incur losses. With continued demand for the beans being recognized, export companies are going into contract farming with farmers. This involves setting of fixed prices that run throughout the year whether the season is low or high. These companies provide seeds and agronomist services on credit to ensure good quality produce with low probability of rejection.
So, if you are planning to venture into this business, the best option is to get a solid market first, then grow your produce as required by your market outlet. Until next time, enjoy.
Image source: Charles Wokabi, Hortinews