They are never broke. With the demand for strawberries remaining high and the supply low, farmers in Nyeri County’s Karatina-Sagana Scheme area, continue to cash in on this fruit that is not only nutritious but also turns in handsome profits weekly.
Strawberries are sweet-tasting, nutritious small red fruits said to be able to boost the regulation of blood and immunity.
They are rich in vitamin C, manganese, folate (vitamin B9) and potassium, calcium, vitamin E, phosphorus, magnesium, and fibre and also in antioxidants, which help to protect cells from free radicals.
Taking only about two-and-a-half to three months to fruit from seedlings, this plant, which is easy to grow and requires minimal land, is harvested twice or three times a week throughout the year.
It is adaptable to climatic conditions and can be grown almost anywhere across Kenya, as long as it can get good sun, fertile well-drained soil and a good amount of water.
But despite the relative ease in growing it and the fact that it is a high-value crop capable of dramatically changing fortunes, not enough farmers are growing, it leading to failure to meet the high demand.
Local companies are forced to import the fruit for use in flavouring juices, yogurts, and milk; or for value addition such as making juice or jam.
There remains a huge gap in demand for the fruit. According to estimates from a Horticulture Validated Report, 2014, some 90 per cent of strawberry is imported (HCD), with total production being 1,487 tonnes.
The demand is over 15,000 tonnes. However, Nyeri farmers are savouring the sweet strawberry while raking in a healthy income. Not even the chilly winds that often envelop the farms in this area, can keep them off it.
The cold reduces production, but the farmers remain unperturbed, for even in its lowest production, the strawberry still ranks as the number one provider in hundreds of homes across the county.
The Smart Farmer magazine, accompanied by Lutheran World Relief (LWR), recently set out to find out how these strawberry farmers were faring. LWR collaborates with County Department of Agriculture in providing agriculture advisory services to farmers.
Agriculture officer Stephen Kamau Muriuki, who is fondly referred to by the farmers as “Mr Agriculture”, walks around the farms to ensure that all was well by addressing concerns and answering questions.
Mrs Jane Wangeci Maina, a 47-year-old mother of three children, has tasted the fruits of the crop. She recently harvested 60,000 strawberry splits from a small portion of her one-acre farm and earned Ksh300,000. She plans to use this to pay university fees for her last-born son and finish constructing her house.
“Strawberries have paid for the secondary school and university education of our three children; the last of whom is a fourth Year student at Eldoret University,” says Mrs Maina, who began growing the crop in 2012.
When she rotated it with French beans, green peas, spinach, and cabbage in 2015, she noticed a dip in her revenues and increased labour costs. She switched back to strawberry farming in 2017.
“Income from the other crops was little and could not sustain my family,” she says. She received 10,000 Chandler variety strawberry splits from Lutheran World Relief that was assisting small-scale farmers with superior shoots, which she planted on half an acre.
“I used to source the splits from different farmers with no guarantee but I was told that this new variety brought by Lutheran World Relief, would produce more, grow bigger and enjoy a longer shelf-life,” says Ms Maina Three months later, she harvested the crop and to date, she gets a total 240 kilos every week and sells it to a broker at Kshs140 per kilo. Her monthly income is between Ksh84,000 to Ksh134,400, depending on the season.
“A one-eighth of an acre of strawberries is a big asset for any farmer. I know this because my farm caters for most of our family needs and my two employees,” she says.
Zachary (model farmer)
Mr Zachary Mwaniki Macharia, a 27-year-old chef, is soon set to start churning out delicious strawberries.
Brokers of the fruit, who began courting him with two months to maturity, are closely monitoring his crop. In an unexpected turn of events, the father of two, who was a cook for the parish priests of the Carmel Gardens Mission in Naro Moru, Nyeri, benefited tenfold when they allowed him to use their two-acre piece of land that had been lying fallow.
“It is courtesy of my culinary skills that I am farming in Nyeri. I came as a cook, but now I am an ardent farmer,” he says. Mr Macharia feels that he is on to a good thing when he looks at the well-mulched, leafy green bunches of strawberry plants.
He has planted cabbages, courgettes, tomatoes and strawberries, but it is from the berries that he expects to make a killing.
“Strawberry is a unique crop. I learned about it quite by accident after overhearing a group of women discussing it,” he recalls.
They were talking about an NGO empowering youth and women through strawberry farming and enrolled in the project.
In March, Mr Macharia received 10,000 splits from Lutheran World relief but lost 7,500 due to the delayed rains.
He planted the remaining 2,500 splits on a 1/16th of an acre. He has excelled, thanks to the guidance of Mr Peter Ngatia, the project coordinator, who crisscrosses the county advising farmers and arranging training in crop practice. He also helps them with marketing to ensure that they become self-sustainable.
“You should pluck out the runner shoots, otherwise they will never flower and your crop will produce little or no berries,” he tells Mr Macharia, showing him practically by plucking the runners that dot the crop.
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