Tea (Caai or Manjani)
Tea is grown on the upper slopes of Mt. Kenya in Embu. There are several tea buying centres and a number of tea factories such as Mukuriri, Mungania and Kathangariri.
Due to its soils, altitude and proximity to the equator, Embu produces some of the finest tea in the world.
Coffee (Kaua or Kauga)
Coffee is a major export crop in Embu and grown in the upper middle altitudes zones, about 1,400 metres above the sea level on the slopes of Mt. Kenya. Nearly all the coffee is grown by small holders in Embu. In 1933, coffee was introduced in Embu but it was not until the 1960s that large numbers of farmers adopted the cash crop.
The coffee boom of 1970s saw much expansion of the land under coffee to the extent that there was little space left for other crops in upper Embu. The plummeting of coffee prices in the 1990 stemmed expansion of the crop with farmers adopting integrated agricultural practices particularly growing of fruits and dairy farming. However, majority of the farmers in the county still grow coffee.
The county has several coffee factories notably: Ndunduri, Kapingazi, Kamurai and many others. The superior Arabica coffee varieties are grown. The choice hand-picked coffee has the characteristic taste of Mt. Kenya coffee giving it premium quality of international standards. Embu produces some of the finest coffee in the world.
Cotton is a cash crop in Embu County that fits best the climatic condition of Mbeere. The Agricultural officials in the county have identified cultivation of cotton and its value addition as having immense potential for economic empowerment and job creation. Irrigation and conservation agriculture are viable options to make land preparation suitable to little amount of rainfall that is usually received in the arid and semi-arid area.
Macadamia nuts are grown in the upper zones of Embu as cash crop which is also exported. Ostensibly, Embu is one of the Kenya’s leading producers of the macadamia nuts. The nuts are produced by a tree which grows tall and slender. The nuts are encased in an extremely hard shell which is difficult to crack.
They are eaten as a snack and are an excellent source of iron, calcium, phosphorous and vitamin B.
Farmers sell the nuts while in their shells to buyers who then take them to factories. The potential for macadamia nuts is immense in Embu which is a natural habitat for the crop.
Maize (Mbembe) is the main staple food in the county. It is grown more widely in the medium altitude areas of Embu. The introduction of hybrids and composite maize varieties has seen the crop being adopted in almost all agro-climatic zones. Most of the maize grown in the county is used for subsistence and small quantities are sold in local markets. Maize yields throughout the county are low primarily due to poor soil fertility and unreliable rains.
Beans and other Legumes
The beans (Mboco) are grown in equal measure with maize. The beans are warm-season vegetables and grow with little care. They are favourite crop for home vegetable gardens and there are different varieties available. In upper Embu, garden peas (Minji) are grown mostly as a cash crop. Dry land legumes grown particularly in lower Embu include: cow peas (Nthoroko), Pigeon peas (Njugu), green grams (Ngina).
Millet and Sorghum
Millet (Mwere) and Sorghum (Muvia) are dry land cereal crops grown mostly in the lower zones of Mbeere in the county. Both crops are used in preparing various foodstuffs such as porridge and ugali and also for local brew. The millet crop is usually grown during the short rainy season (October – December). However, the traditional sorghum varieties take two rainy seasons to mature. Similarly, Sorghum is planted during the short rains but harvested in July – September.
Modern sorghum varieties are short maturing and are grown in one rainy season. In general, millet and sorghum are grown together with legumes such as cow peas or pigeon peas. Finger millet (Mugimbi or Mukombi) is grown in small quantities in some areas of the county. In recent years, the millet grown area has been reducing due to changing dietary habits as people switched to eating maize and other foods. In addition, most farmers grow local millet varieties such as Ciakaugi, Kimbeere and Kiraka which are low yielding.
Irish potatoes (Waru)
Irish potatoes are not an indigenous crop and were introduced in the county along with other agricultural reforms around 1962. The potatoes are grown in the higher rainfall areas of Embu in almost every farm although they have great economic potential.
Sweet potatoes (Ngwaci)
Sweet potatoes are grown as food crops in most parts of the county given that they are difficult to store once harvested. They are grown in small quantities on small patches of land or on river banks. They have a great potential as a strategic food security crop since they do well on all soil types but require adequate moisture.
Cassava is a crucial root crop which grows best with sufficient rainfall but can also survive dry land conditions. It is grown as a famine insurance and strategic reserve food crop. Cassava is consumed raw, boiled, roasted or mixed with bananas and other mashed dishes. The crop has been promoted by the government to boost food security in the dry areas in the county.
Arrow roots (Nduma) and Yams (Ikwa)
Arrow roots and yams are other root crops grown in Embu County. Arrowroots have potential for commercialization since they are more expensive than all the other root crops grown in the county.
Fruit crops grown in Embu County include: Avocado, bananas, loquat (macuca), tree tomato, passion fruit, mangoes etc.
Mangoes (Magembe), are major cash crop in the lower-middle altitude areas in Embu County. Traditional mango varieties have been grown since 1950s. Nonetheless, exotic grafted varieties such as Kent, Apple, Tommy, Eden, Vandyke, Ngowe and Sabine were introduced in the 1990s and are also grown at commercial scales. The mangoes from this county practice some form of horticulture, ranging from vegetables to fruits.
The mangoes from Embu County are among the best in terms of size, quality, taste and colour.
The main types of vegetables grown in the county include Cabbage, Kales (sukuma wiki), Onions, Carrots, tomatoes as well as indigenous vegetables that include: amaranth (terere/rwoga) and cow peas leaves (nyanyi or nyeni). Most commercial vegetables are grown under irrigation.
Most farmers keep local and exotic dairy cattle with the most common breed that include: Friesian, Aryshire, Jersey and Guernseys in upper Embu while Zebu, Borans and Sahiwals in lower Embu. They are either reared under zero-grazing or semi zero-grazing systems. They are fed on the local grass pastures with limited opportunity for commercial supplements due to high costs. Similarly, bulls are reared too alongside dairy cattle.
The major breeds reared are the small East African goat, Galla, Soanen and their cross-breeds. These breeds are preferred due to their adaptability to local conditions. They have high fertility rate, low feed and water requirements as well as their ability to walk for long distances. Some farmers keep dairy goats comprising of Kenyan and German Alpine and Toggenburg breeds.
They are mostly kept for mutton and are found particularly in lower part of Embu. The common breeds reared include the Red maasai, Black headed Persian and crosses.
The main poultry type kept is the county is an indigenous chicken. They provide family dietary protein in form of eggs and meat, act as income generators among others.
Very few farmers keep exotic chicken as layers and broilers particularly in major towns of the county. Some of the common breeds are: White leghorn, Rhode island red and Issa Brown. There is great potential to improve poultry farming in the county.
They are also reared by most farmers for pork both for consumption and commercial purposes.
A number of irrigation schemes are already operational in Embu County. They include: Ena, Makengi, Karaba, Ishiara-Kathigi, Kibugu/Nguviu among others. Small scale group based and individual irrigators operate along the major rivers such as Tana, Thiba, Thuci, Ena, Rupingazi and Thura.
Other individual irrigators utilize water from shallow springs, wells and earth dams. The majority of irrigation schemes utilize piped gravity flow water delivery and only a few are pump-fed. There are a number of new irrigation schemes that opened up in the recent past, e.g, Kathigagaceru while others are planned for construction in the near future e.g. Kagaari South in Embu and Evurori in Mbeere. There is a great potential to increase irrigated area in the county through water harvesting and storage in underground tanks, ponds, pans as well as use of shallow (rechargeable) ground water resources.