Basil farming in Kenya has gained popularity over the years due to the increasing demand for this aromatic herb in local and international markets. Basil (Ocimum basilicum) is a highly versatile herb used in culinary, medicinal, and cosmetic applications. Its popularity is mainly attributed to its pleasant aroma, flavor, and various health benefits.

Basil Farming In Kenya; A Comprehensive Planting Guide

Although not very common in the Kenyan cuisine, the local market takes about 10% of produce while the rest of it is exported to Netherlands, Denmark, Germany and France, among other countries.

Basil treats a wide variety of diseases, has anti-inflammatory properties and is known to stimulate circulation, immune response and is full of anti-oxidants.

Basil Varieties In Kenya

Several basil varieties can be grown in Kenya, including sweet basil (Genovese basil), lemon basil, Thai basil, and purple basil. Each variety has its unique flavor and characteristics, catering to different markets and culinary preferences.

Basil VarietyCharacteristicsImportant Information
Sweet Basil– Most common variety in Kenya– Preferred for its classic basil flavor and aroma
– Large, glossy green leaves– High demand in both local and international markets
– Strong and sweet aroma– Suitable for fresh use, dried, or making basil-infused oils
Lemon Basil– Lemon-scented leaves– Highly aromatic with a citrusy, lemon-like fragrance
– Pale green, elongated leaves– Adds a unique flavor to salads, seafood dishes, and teas
– Used in culinary and medicinal applications– Attracts beneficial insects, making it suitable for companion planting
Thai Basil– Distinct anise or licorice flavor– Commonly used in Thai, Vietnamese, and other Southeast Asian cuisines
– Purple or green leaves, sometimes with purple stems– Suitable for stir-fries, curries, and noodle dishes
– High essential oil content– Requires warm temperatures and well-drained soil
Purple Basil– Rich, dark purple leaves– Adds a pop of color to dishes and salads
– Similar flavor to sweet basil– Can be used interchangeably with sweet basil
– Contains anthocyanins, potent antioxidants– Requires adequate sunlight for vibrant purple color
Holy Basil– Also known as Tulsi Basil– Held sacred in some cultures for its spiritual significance
– Green leaves with purple accents– Widely used in Ayurvedic medicine for its medicinal properties
– Peppery and slightly spicy flavor– Grows well in tropical climates with regular watering
Bush Basil– Compact, bushy growth habit– Ideal for container gardening or limited garden space
– Small, bright green leaves– Suitable for growing on patios, balconies, or indoors
– Mild flavor, less intense than sweet basil– Requires well-draining soil and regular fertilization

Basil Growing Zones In Kenya

Basil can be grown in various regions in Kenya with suitable climates and growing conditions. The country’s diverse topography and climate zones offer opportunities for basil cultivation in different areas. The primary basil growing zones in Kenya are as follows:

  1. Coastal Region: The coastal areas of Kenya, including Mombasa, Malindi, and Lamu, have a tropical climate with high temperatures and relatively high humidity. These conditions are favorable for basil cultivation, making the coastal region an excellent zone for growing basil.
  2. Eastern Region: Some parts of the Eastern Region, such as Kitui and Machakos, have semi-arid to arid conditions. While basil can be grown here, it requires careful water management and irrigation to thrive.
  3. Rift Valley: The Rift Valley region, including Nakuru, Naivasha, and Eldoret, has a temperate to subtropical climate. Certain areas within this zone offer suitable conditions for basil farming, especially at higher altitudes.
  4. Central Region: The Central Region, which includes Nairobi, Thika, and Murang’a, has a temperate climate with relatively cooler temperatures. Basil can be grown in this region, but farmers need to be cautious of colder temperatures during certain periods.
  5. Western Region: The Western Region, including Kakamega and Kisumu, has a tropical climate with relatively high rainfall. Basil can be cultivated here, but proper drainage is essential to avoid waterlogging.
  6. Nyanza Region: The Nyanza Region, which includes Kisii and Homa Bay, has a mix of highland and lakefront areas. Some parts may be suitable for basil cultivation, especially in well-drained highland regions.

It’s important to note that specific microclimates within these regions can vary, so farmers should conduct site-specific assessments and consider factors like altitude, rainfall patterns, and soil conditions when planning basil cultivation. Farmers may also use irrigation to overcome variations in natural rainfall and ensure optimal growth conditions.

Ecological Requirements on Basil Farming In Kenya

Basil is easy to grow and is commonly grown outdoors. However, it can also be grown indoors (in greenhouses). It requires at least 6-8hours of sunlight per day.

Here are the key ecological requirements for growing basil:

  • Climate: Basil thrives in warm, tropical to subtropical climates. The ideal temperature range for basil cultivation is between 20ยฐC to 30ยฐC (68ยฐF to 86ยฐF). Temperatures below 10ยฐC (50ยฐF) can damage basil plants, while temperatures above 35ยฐC (95ยฐF) can lead to stress and reduced growth. Basil is sensitive to frost, so it’s essential to avoid planting during cold seasons in regions prone to frost.
  • Sunlight: Basil requires ample sunlight to grow well. It prefers full sun exposure, receiving at least 6 to 8 hours of direct sunlight daily. Insufficient sunlight can result in leggy, weak plants with reduced leaf production.
  • Soil: Basil grows best in well-draining soils with good fertility. Loamy or sandy soils with a pH range of 6.0 to 7.5 are ideal for basil cultivation. Poorly-draining soils can lead to waterlogged conditions, increasing the risk of root diseases.
  • Watering: Adequate and consistent watering is crucial for basil plants. They prefer evenly moist soil, but they don’t tolerate waterlogged conditions. Drip irrigation is recommended to provide a controlled water supply and prevent overwatering.
  • Humidity: Basil prefers moderate to high humidity levels. While it can tolerate some humidity fluctuations, excessively dry conditions can lead to wilting and poor growth.
  • Wind: Basil plants are sensitive to strong winds, which can damage the tender leaves and affect plant growth. Providing some protection from strong winds, such as windbreaks, can be beneficial.
  • Altitude: Basil can be grown at various altitudes in Kenya, but it typically thrives at elevations up to 2,000 meters (6,500 feet) above sea level. At higher altitudes, temperatures may drop significantly at night, so farmers need to take this into account and consider using protective measures during colder periods.
  • Companion Plants: Some plants can act as companions to basil, promoting its growth and deterring pests. For instance, planting basil alongside tomatoes or peppers can be mutually beneficial.
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How to plant basil

Planting basil from nursery to the field involves several key steps to ensure successful establishment and growth. Here’s a step-by-step guide on how to do it:

basil farmers in kenya

1. Nursery Preparation:

  • Select a well-draining nursery site with ample sunlight.
  • Prepare the nursery beds or seed trays with a fertile potting mix or soil mixture (comprising equal parts of garden soil, compost, and sand).
  • Sow basil seeds at a depth of about 0.5 cm (1/4 inch) in the nursery beds or seed trays.

2. Seed Germination:

  • Keep the nursery beds or trays consistently moist, but avoid overwatering to prevent seed rot.
  • Basil seeds usually germinate within 5 to 10 days, depending on the variety and environmental conditions.

3. Nursery Care:

  • Thin the seedlings once they have at least two sets of true leaves, leaving a spacing of about 5 to 7 cm (2 to 3 inches) between plants.
  • Continue to water the seedlings regularly, ensuring they receive enough sunlight for healthy growth.

4. Harden Off Seedlings:

  • Before transplanting, gradually acclimate the seedlings to outdoor conditions over a period of 7 to 10 days. Gradually increase their exposure to sunlight and reduce watering to promote root growth.

5. Field Site Selection:

  • Choose a field site with well-draining soil and full sun exposure. Avoid areas prone to waterlogging or excessive shade.

6. Land Preparation:

  • Clear the field of any weeds or debris.
  • Perform soil testing to determine its nutrient content and pH level. Amend the soil as needed to ensure it falls within the optimal pH range of 6.0 to 7.5.

7. Transplanting:

  • Transplant the basil seedlings to the field once they are 15-20 cm (6-8 inches) tall and have developed a strong root system.
  • Space the plants 25-30 cm (10-12 inches) apart in rows with a distance of 45-60 cm (18-24 inches) between rows to allow for air circulation and facilitate harvesting.

8. Watering:

  • Water the transplanted seedlings immediately after planting to help them establish in the field.
  • Provide regular watering to keep the soil consistently moist but not waterlogged.

9. Mulching:

  • Apply a layer of organic mulch around the basil plants to retain soil moisture, suppress weed growth, and maintain more stable soil temperatures.

10. Fertilization:

  • Provide adequate nutrients to the basil plants through regular fertilization. Use balanced fertilizers with a higher nitrogen content during the early growth stages, and switch to a more balanced formulation as the plants mature.

Harvesting needs for Basil?

Most importers go for fresh cut basil, which has undergone a labor-intensive process. This entails the use of sickles that harvest leaf sets that are slightly above the last two leaf sets off the ground. Kenya basil farmers usually place the fresh cut leaves onto a bag ready for packing in bunches.ย  Depending on the importerโ€™s specifications, the bunches can vary from several to multiple leaves. The same applies to weight and stem length.

Here’s what you need to know about harvesting basil:

1. Timing: Basil leaves can be harvested once the plants have grown to a height of 15-20 cm (6-8 inches). Harvesting can begin when the plants have developed several sets of true leaves and are well-established. Avoid harvesting from very young or immature plants, as it can hinder their growth.

2. Harvesting Method: When harvesting basil, use clean, sharp scissors or pruning shears to cut the stems just above a leaf node (the point where a leaf emerges from the stem). This encourages branching and continued growth of the plant. Avoid tearing or damaging the stems while harvesting.

3. Leaf Selection: Harvest the larger, mature leaves first. These leaves have the most developed flavor and aroma. Leave the smaller, younger leaves to grow further and contribute to the plant’s continuous growth.

4. Harvesting Frequency: Basil is a fast-growing herb, and you can harvest from the same plant multiple times throughout the growing season. Frequent harvesting promotes the development of more branches and leaves. Aim to harvest every 2 to 4 weeks, depending on the growth rate of your basil plants.

5. Harvesting Time: The best time to harvest basil is in the early morning, shortly after the dew has dried but before the heat of the day. At this time, the essential oil content in the leaves is at its peak, resulting in the best flavor and aroma.

6. Harvesting Precautions: When harvesting basil, be gentle with the plants to avoid bruising or damaging the leaves. Bruised leaves can quickly lose their quality and may lead to post-harvest spoilage. Handle the basil leaves with care to maintain their freshness.

7. Post-Harvest Handling: After harvesting, sort and clean the basil leaves to remove any debris or damaged parts. Store the leaves in breathable containers or bags to prevent condensation and maintain their quality. Store basil in a cool place, away from direct sunlight, to extend its shelf life.

Exporting Basil from Kenya

The main markets for Kenya basil is the European Union. Figures show that the region made imports of the herb totaling 2 billion Euro. By country, the UK, Germany, Denmark, Norway, Sweden and Holland are the main recipients of the produce.

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Thus, if you are one for aromatic fresh herbs from Kenya, consider basil. With the growing attention for the plantโ€™s antioxidants that fight free radicals that cause cancer, basil and its essential oil have become market attractions. It also has loads of minerals like magnesium for nurturing metabolic processes and maintaining bone heath. So are its vitamins like K for fast wound healing as it enhances blood clotting.

Pests and Diseases

Below is a table listing common pests and diseases that can affect basil plants:

PestsDescription and ImpactControl Measures
AphidsTiny insects that feed on sap, causing stunted growth and yellowing of leaves.Use insecticidal soap, neem oil, or ladybugs.
WhitefliesSmall, white-winged insects that suck plant sap, leading to yellowing and wilting.Use yellow sticky traps or insecticidal soap.
ThripsSlender insects that feed on leaves, causing distorted growth and silvering.Introduce predatory insects or use neem oil.
Spider MitesTiny pests that feed on plant cells, causing yellow stippling and webbing.Spray with water or use insecticidal soap.
Slugs and SnailsSoft-bodied mollusks that feed on leaves, causing irregular holes and damage.Handpick or use slug baits (iron phosphate-based).
Leaf MinersLarvae of various fly species that create tunnels in leaves, affecting plant vigor.Remove affected leaves or use sticky traps.

Diseases of basil

DiseasesDescription and ImpactControl Measures
Downy MildewFungal disease that appears as yellowish patches on leaves, causing wilting and leaf drop.Improve air circulation and avoid overhead watering.
Fusarium WiltFungal disease causing yellowing, wilting, and eventual death of the plant.Use disease-resistant varieties and practice crop rotation.
Powdery MildewFungal disease forming white powdery patches on leaves, reducing plant vitality.Improve air circulation and apply fungicidal treatments.
Bacterial Leaf SpotBacterial infection leading to dark spots with yellow halos on leaves.Remove infected leaves and use copper-based fungicides.
Root RotFungal disease affecting the roots, causing wilting and poor nutrient uptake.Ensure well-draining soil and avoid overwatering.
Gray Mold (Botrytis)Fungal disease causing brown spots on leaves and flowers, leading to decay.Improve air circulation and remove infected plant parts.

Preventive measures, such as practicing good sanitation, providing proper cultural conditions, and using integrated pest management (IPM) techniques, are vital in managing pests and diseases effectively in basil farming. Early detection and timely intervention play a crucial role in minimizing the impact of pests and diseases on basil crops.

Spray and Fertilizer Program

Creating a spray and fertilizer program is essential for promoting healthy growth and managing pests and diseases in basil farming. Below is a general spray and fertilizer program for basil cultivation:

1. Fertilizer Program:


  • Before planting, conduct a soil test to determine the nutrient status and pH level of the soil.
  • Based on the soil test results, amend the soil with organic matter (compost) and any necessary nutrients to achieve the optimal pH range of 6.0 to 7.5.
  • Incorporate a balanced fertilizer with higher nitrogen content into the soil during land preparation to support initial growth.

During Planting:

  • If transplanting seedlings, use a transplanting fertilizer with a balanced formulation to help the plants establish quickly in the field.

Throughout the Growing Season:

  • Apply a balanced fertilizer (e.g., 10-10-10) every 3 to 4 weeks during the growing season to provide a steady supply of essential nutrients to the basil plants.
  • As the plants mature, consider switching to a fertilizer with a lower nitrogen content and higher potassium and phosphorus levels to promote flowering and fruiting.

2. Spray Program:

Preventive Measures:

  • Practice good sanitation by removing weeds and plant debris that may harbor pests and diseases.
  • Implement crop rotation to reduce the buildup of pests and diseases in the soil.
  • Maintain proper spacing between plants to ensure good air circulation and reduce the risk of fungal diseases.

Pest and Disease Monitoring:

  • Regularly inspect the basil plants for signs of pests and diseases.
  • Use yellow sticky traps to monitor and trap flying insects like whiteflies and thrips.
  • Install pheromone traps for specific pests if necessary.

Integrated Pest Management (IPM):

  • Introduce beneficial insects like ladybugs or predatory mites to control aphids and other pests.
  • Use insecticidal soap or neem oil to manage soft-bodied pests like aphids and spider mites.
  • For serious infestations, consider using biological or botanical insecticides, following label instructions carefully to avoid harm to beneficial insects.

Disease Management:

  • Apply fungicidal treatments to manage fungal diseases such as downy mildew and powdery mildew. Copper-based fungicides can be effective for bacterial leaf spot.
  • Improve air circulation around the plants to reduce humidity and minimize fungal disease development.
  • Avoid overhead watering, as it can encourage disease spread. Instead, use drip irrigation to water at the base of the plants.

Note: It’s essential to follow the recommended application rates and schedules for both fertilizers and sprays, as overuse or improper application can lead to nutrient imbalances or chemical residues.

FAQs on Basil Farming In Kenya

  1. What is the best time of year to plant basil in Kenya?

The best time of year to plant basil in Kenya is during the rainy season, which is from March to May. However, basil can also be planted during the dry season, as long as it is watered regularly.

  1. What is the best type of soil for basil?

Basil prefers well-drained, fertile soil with a pH of 6.0 to 7.0. The soil should be loose enough to allow the roots to grow easily.

  1. How much sun does basil need?

Basil needs full sun, at least 6 hours of sunlight per day. If you live in a hot climate, you may need to provide some shade during the hottest part of the day.

  1. How much water does basil need?
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Basil needs to be watered regularly, but not too often. The soil should be kept moist, but not soggy.

  1. How do I fertilize basil?

Basil can be fertilized with a balanced fertilizer every 2 to 3 weeks. You can also use compost or manure to fertilize your basil plants.

  1. How do I harvest basil?

Basil can be harvested when the leaves are young and tender. To harvest, simply snip the leaves off the stem. You can also harvest the entire plant, if you prefer.

  1. How do I store basil?

Basil can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 5 days. To store, simply rinse the leaves and pat them dry. Then, place them in a sealed container or bag.

  1. What are the pests and diseases that affect basil?

The most common pests that affect basil are aphids, spider mites, and whiteflies. The most common diseases that affect basil are leaf spot, powdery mildew, and verticillium wilt.

  1. How do I prevent pests and diseases from affecting my basil plants?

You can prevent pests and diseases from affecting your basil plants by:

  • Planting basil in a well-drained area.
  • Watering your basil plants regularly.
  • Fertilizing your basil plants regularly.
  • Inspecting your basil plants regularly for signs of pests and diseases.
  • Treating pests and diseases promptly.
  1. How do I propagate basil?

Basil can be propagated by seed or by cuttings. To propagate basil by seed, sow the seeds in a pot or in the ground. To propagate basil by cuttings, simply cut a 4- to 6-inch stem from a healthy plant and place it in water. The cutting will root in about 2 weeks.

  1. What are the different types of basil?

There are many different types of basil, including:

  • Sweet basil: This is the most common type of basil. It has a sweet, licorice flavor.
  • Thai basil: This type of basil has a strong, spicy flavor. It is often used in Thai cuisine.
  • Genovese basil: This type of basil is used to make pesto. It has a strong, peppery flavor.
  • Lemon basil: This type of basil has a lemony flavor. It is often used in salads and desserts.
  • Purple basil: This type of basil has purple leaves. It has a similar flavor to sweet basil.
  1. How do I use basil?

Basil can be used in a variety of dishes, including:

  • Salads
  • Soups
  • Pasta dishes
  • Pizza
  • Sandwiches
  • Pesto
  • Vinaigrettes
  • Chutneys
  1. What are the health benefits of basil?

Basil has many health benefits, including:

  • It is a good source of antioxidants.
  • It helps to lower blood pressure.
  • It helps to reduce inflammation.
  • It has antibacterial and antifungal properties.
  • It can help to improve digestion.
  • It can help to boost the immune system.
  1. How much basil do I need for a recipe?

The amount of basil you need for a recipe will vary depending on the recipe. However, as a general rule of thumb, you will need about 1 tablespoon of chopped basil per serving.

  1. Where can I buy basil in Kenya?

Basil can be bought at most supermarkets and vegetable markets in Kenya. You can also buy basil seeds online or at some garden centers.

  1. How much does basil cost in Kenya?

The cost of basil in Kenya varies depending on the season and the source. However, you can expect to pay around Ksh. 100 for a bunch of basil.

  1. Is basil farming profitable in Kenya?

Basil farming can be profitable in Kenya, especially if you are able to sell your basil to restaurants or other businesses. The profit margin for basil farming is relatively high, and the demand for basil is increasing.

  1. What are the challenges of basil farming in Kenya?

The main challenges of basil farming in Kenya include:

  • Pests and diseases: Basil is susceptible to a number of pests and diseases, which can damage the plants and reduce yields.
  • Weather: Basil is a warm-season crop, and it can be damaged by frost.
  • Labor: Basil requires regular harvesting, which can be labor-intensive.
  1. How can I increase my chances of success in basil farming in Kenya?

There are a number of things you can do to increase your chances of success in basil farming in Kenya, including:

  • Choose a suitable location: Basil needs full sun and well-drained soil.
  • Use good quality seeds or cuttings: Start with high-quality seeds or cuttings to give your plants a good start.
  • Plant in the right season: Basil should be planted during the rainy season, when the weather is warm and humid.
  • Water regularly: Basil needs to be watered regularly, but not too often.
  • Fertilize regularly: Basil should be fertilized regularly with a balanced fertilizer.
  • Harvest regularly: Basil should be harvested regularly to encourage new growth.
  • Control pests and diseases: Monitor your plants regularly for pests and diseases, and treat them promptly if they occur.
  1. What are the future prospects for basil farming in Kenya?

The future prospects for basil farming in Kenya are positive. The demand for basil is increasing, and the crop is relatively easy to grow. As more people become aware of the health benefits of basil, the demand for the crop is likely to continue to grow.


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