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December 09, 2008

Kenyan farmers try growing beetroot

Farmers strike gold in beetroot

by Kepher Otieno

Farmers in Western Kenya are giving up traditional cereal growing to venture into beetroot farming, an undertaking said to be paying off handsomely.

Until recently, many farmers did not know the economic and medicinal value of beetroot. Beetroot is a rare perennial plant with leafy stems growing 1-2 metres tall. Of its numerous cultivated varieties, the most well known is the red- root garden beet. Others include the leaf vegetables chard, spinach beet and sugar beet, which is important in table sugar production.

White and red beetroot are planted in the region with farmers preferring the latter. Nyanza Provincial Director of Agriculture Joash Owiro says the region has the right conditions for beetroot farming. Though the crop is not common as staple foods such as maize, beans, sorghum, and cassava, Owiro says the venture is worth every effort. He says the plant is easy to manage and it only requires patience and commitment to reap the benefits.

A recently visited farmers was harvesting his fifth crop this year. The plant takes 60 days to mature, a manager at the Western Kenya Seed Company official says. Joseph Metto, in charge of agricultural products, says an acre can produce up to 60,000 pulp tubers.

"One needs three kilogrammes of seeds each costing Sh3, 400," he says. The seeds are available in most Kenya seed Company stores countrywide.A farmer may spend up to Sh20, 000 for planting, fertiliser, weeding, and ploughing costs, Metto says."One needs about 400 grams of seed for an acre. It may seem expensive but the returns are good," says the Kenya Seed official.

Health experts say beetroot can help reduce blood pressure. Fresh beetroot can also be eaten raw."It can add a refreshing touch to a salad and make a good breakfast flavour," Metto says.

Farmers Albert Sumba says this is one of the plants unique characteristics that inspired him to grow it. "When I learnt of the benefits I decided to spare portion of my farm to give it a try. And today I have no regrets," he says.

Some farmers cook the leaves, which can be steamed or cooked in boiling water.

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