African nightshade also known as managu plays an integral part on most of Kenyansย nutrition, food security and income generation. These vegetables contain important phenolics that have medicinal values and good health attributes. The abundance of these phenolic substances has strongly been associated with phosphorus use efficiency.

African Nightshade

Much research attention on nightshade has focused on leaf yields, nutritional value, agronomic practices and post-harvest handling. However, African nightshade production is mainly constrained by lack of quality seeds occasioned by methods of seed harvesting, processing and storage.

Background

African nightshade (Solanum spp.) is a group of African Indigenous Vegetable (AIV) species that are cultivated and consumed in many parts of sub-Saharan Africa especially in Eastern, Western and Southern Africa. Nightshades have become commercially important crops in urban and peri-urban areas where they are traded for higher prices compared to exotic vegetables. They are considered among the priority AIV in production, consumption and trade, and plays a significant role in nutrition, food security and income generation.

The African nightshade is naturally common in both lowland and highland areas in West, Central and East Africa. It can grow in a wide range of soils, but it does better in nutrient-rich soil with high levels of organic material. Unlike some other nightshades, the fruit of the African nightshade is not eaten. The vegetable is an excellent source of protein, iron, vitamin A, iodine and zinc. Nightshades are traditionally used as medicinal plants.

Despite these benefits, supply of these vegetables lags behind the steadily rising demand due to challenges such as lack of quality seeds, lack of improved varieties that produce high yields among other constrains in production.

For instance, nightshade leaves have a potential yield of 30-50 tonnes per hectare, yet farmers have been reported to obtain yields of between1.3-1.5 tonnes per hectare in Kenya.

Profitability of African nightshade farming in Kenya

African nightshade is a popular leafy vegetable in Kenya, known for its nutritional and medicinal benefits. As with any agricultural endeavor, the profitability of farming African nightshade in Kenya depends on various factors, including market demand, production costs, and availability of resources.

Market demand for African nightshade is generally high in Kenya, as it is a popular vegetable among the locals. However, prices may fluctuate based on factors such as supply and demand, seasonality, and competition from other similar vegetables. To maximize profitability, farmers may need to research the local market and adjust their production accordingly.

Production costs for African nightshade farming may include the cost of seeds, land, labor, fertilizer, and pesticides. However, because African nightshade is a relatively low-maintenance crop, production costs may be relatively low compared to other crops. Farmers can also minimize costs by using organic farming methods, such as composting and natural pest control.

Access to resources such as land, water, and labor may also impact the profitability of African nightshade farming in Kenya. Farmers with access to land and water resources may have a competitive advantage, while those with limited access may face challenges in production and distribution.

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Overall, African nightshade farming in Kenya can be profitable for farmers who have access to resources, are knowledgeable about the local market, and are willing to adopt efficient and sustainable farming practices. However, profitability may vary depending on various factors, and farmers should conduct thorough research and planning before starting their operations.

PLANTING

  • African nightshade may be sown year round, as long as there is water available to irrigate the crop.
  • An inter-plant and inter-row spacing of 20 cm is recommended for small-scale growers, who harvest leaves continuously during the crop season.
  • Growers who have access to more land will get better leaf yields using greater distances of 50 cm between plants and 50 cm between rows.
  • If you are planting for a seed crop use even wider spacing, 60 cm X 50 cm or 80 cm X 50 cm.
  • Seed can be grown in flat trays or nursery beds, or broadcast directly into the field.
  • Because the seed is so fine it is best to mix it with a medium like river sand to help even sowing.

PICKING

  • The fast-growing seedling is ready to transplant a month to 6 weeks after sowing when it is about 7 cm tall.
  • Donโ€™t leave it to get too tall because you will get weak plants.
  • Flowers appear from eight to 11 weeks and first leaf harvest begins between 8 and 12 weeks after sowing.
  • When the leafy stems are cut down (to between 5 cm and 15 cm) side shoots start regrowth immediately.
  • After the first cut, growers can harvest every week to 2 weeks for up to 10 cuts. The length of harvested shoot really depends on the cultivar.
  • Yields begin to fall off after the 6th cut without enough of the right kind of fertiliser.
  • Yields increase significantly (7 t/ha to 27 t/ha) depending on good farming practices, a reasonable fertiliser programme and a solid knowledge base.

There is no better teacher for a farmer than experience, but farming can be an unforgiving business. The experience of your farming friends and neighbours, or family members who have farmed the crop is an invaluable learning resource.

MARKETING

Indigenous food crops are becoming more popular and the African nightshade now appears on supermarket shelves in East African countries, but is found throughout the region in local informal, fresh produce markets.

The one challenge with this crop is that is must be marketed on the same day it is picked. This is difficult, but not insurmountable, for growers who live far from urban areas.

The high demand for the African nightshade guarantees a strong market, always a winning trait in a commercial crop.

Itโ€™s productive, generous, nutritious and popular with consumers, and almost certainly worth a trial, especially if you are a grower with tomato or potato experience and already familiar with the possible disease challenges the solanaceous plants suffer.

To farm African Nightshade in Kenya, here are some steps you can follow:

  1. Site selection: Choose a well-drained site that receives at least six hours of sunlight daily. The soil should be rich in organic matter and have a pH of 5.5 to 6.5.
  2. Seed selection: Select high-quality seeds from a reputable supplier. African Nightshade seeds are readily available in most agro-vets and seed suppliers in Kenya.
  3. Soil preparation: Prepare the soil by removing weeds and stones, and then dig and loosen the soil to a depth of 15-20 cm. Add manure or compost to the soil to improve its fertility.
  4. Planting: Plant the seeds directly in the soil, or start them in a nursery and transplant them to the field after 3-4 weeks. Plant the seeds 1-2 cm deep and 30-40 cm apart.
  5. Watering: Water the plants regularly, especially during dry periods, but do not overwater as it may lead to root rot.
  6. Fertilization: Apply fertilizer at planting time and after the first harvest. A balanced fertilizer with an NPK ratio of 10:10:10 is recommended.
  7. Pest and disease control: African Nightshade is prone to pests and diseases such as aphids, whiteflies, and powdery mildew. Use appropriate insecticides and fungicides to control these pests and diseases.
  8. Harvesting: African Nightshade is ready for harvesting 8-12 weeks after planting. Harvest the leaves and young shoots regularly to encourage new growth.
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In conclusion, African Nightshade farming is a viable option in Kenya, and with proper care, it can provide a nutritious and sustainable source of food for many people.

Success Story Of A Managu Farmer In Kiambu

Ceciliah Maina walks on her black nightshade (managu) farm in Kikuyu, Kiambu County, looking at the progress of her crop.

She checks the cropsโ€™ leaves and smiles broadly after noticing they are pest-free.

Deep down her heart, she knows that it is just a matter of days before the crops hit the market.

โ€œThey are eight weeks old since I planted them; they should be harvested any time,โ€ says Cecilia, 28, adding that she finds the vegetable lucrative because of its huge market in urban areas like Nairobi.

Ceciliah farms on three quarters of an acre, a quarter that hosts the mature crop.

She leased the farm at Sh10,000 a year, and has segmented it into smaller portions to ensure she supplies the produce to the market all the year round.

โ€œI started the venture three years ago after unsuccessfully trying to grow cabbages and tomatoes. I grew the former on three-quarter acres and was lucky to recoup my investment due to pest attack,โ€ she recounts, noting she was not lucky with tomatoes.

Ready market

A visit to a farm run by a church member in Kiambu turned an eye-opener for her. โ€œAs we were weeding his managu, I asked him why he settled on the vegetables and he elaborated on how the crop is easy to farm, is less attacked by pests and has a ready market.โ€

Ceciliah, who holds a diploma in cooperative management, followed the path.

From her first crop that occupied about eighth acre, she harvested crops that earned her Sh28,000.

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โ€œThis was not bad investment considering that my seed capital was Sh16,500 from my own savings.โ€

She did managu and cowpeas in the second season but the crops were affected by floods and blight.

But she was back on track and as many other farmers growing traditional vegetables, the onset of Covid-19 gave her the boost she needed.

โ€œThe crops were in huge demand during the period because of their nutritional value. Managu, for instance, is rich in antioxidants, vitamins, calcium, phosphorus, iron and calories.โ€

Grow new scions

Ceciliah sells the crop mostly to wholesale buyers from Dagoretti, Kawangware and Kangemi markets.

โ€œThe traders flock my farm and pay for the produce before I harvest. I donโ€™t sell them in kilos but in portions grown on the land. This season, for instance, I estimate that I have spent Sh5,000 on each portion to grow the vegetables. I will sell at between Sh15,000 and Sh20,000 per harvest depending on how the vegetable has performed,โ€ย  she says.

If she was to sell per kilo, on the other hand, each would go from Sh30-Sh50 and she would have to take the produce to the market herself.

The first harvest is done by cutting the stem with its leaves, allowing the rootstock to grow new scions.

โ€œThe crop yields for up to five months before it is uprooted and new one grown.โ€

She rotates the crop with others like slender leaf (mito) and jute mallow (mrenda) as well as dania.

To grow managu, she tills the land then mixes the soil with livestock manure to end up with a fine product. She further adds Di-Ammonium Phosphate (DAP) fertiliser before planting the crops by broadcasting and covering lightly with soil. โ€œI grow the giant night shade variety which I source seeds from Busia. This is what buyers and consumers love.โ€

On quarter acre, she uses one-and-half kilos of seeds, which cost her Sh1,700.

Harvesting

According to Cecilia, who works as an office administrator in Nairobi, she waters the farm depending on stages of the crop.ย  โ€œIn the initial stages, I apply water three times per week, which I source from a nearby well,โ€ she states.

Besides irrigation, she ensures the crop is well weeded, sprayed and curbs pests like aphids, thrips and white flies.

Besides blight, other disease she grapples with are rust, nematodes, fusarium and bacterial wilt, powdery and downy mildew, and leaf spots.

The farmer employs three workers, especially during weeding and harvesting.

Richard Omondi from Agri-Irrigation and Solutions Africa, says using broadcasting method to plant managu seeds saves time and covers big space resulting in bumper harvest. However, when the crops mature and congest on the farm, it becomes difficult to control weeds.

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