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The rich pickings in strawberry farming

OPINION
By BY LILLIAN KIARIE | November 5th 2013

BY LILLIAN KIARIE

Of all the crops that Robert Kararu is currently farming, his strawberries are the biggest source of pride and joy.

Kararu produces and supplies strawberry seedlings to other farmers in Nyeri and Karatina towns.

He sells a seedling of chandler strawberries at Sh12, and once an order is placed, the delivery is done within three days to the customer’s doorstep.

He also shares reading materials on strawberry farming and organises farm visits to his farm for interested farmers so they can see how strawberry farming is carried out.

High demand, low supply

“The demand and market for strawberries both locally and internationally is high, and farmers have been unable to sustain this demand. Many are losing out on the opportunities,” he said.

Kararu is just one of the many farmers who are reaping the benefits of growing an often overlooked fruit that has immense value.

Because not many people engage in strawberry farming in Kenya, the crop is scarce, which makes it expensive — guaranteeing good returns for farmers.

Not only does the crop draw high  value locally, but there also exists a rich export market for well-grown strawberries.

Strawberry farmers provide raw material for a diverse value chain that includes fruit salads, jam, milkshakes and smoothies.

Traditionally, strawberry farmers have concentrated their production for the export market, particularly in Europe.

Over time, however, the demand for the fruit locally market has increased.

In addition, an equally lucrative market for strawberry leaves is emerging. Strawberry leaves are used for the production of herbal medicine and for decorative purposes.

A single branch of the plant goes for Sh1.50, with farmers tying them in bundles of 100 branches that sell for Sh150.

This means there are great opportunities in the fruit for anyone willing to venture into growing it right.

Strawberries are grown from cultivars. They do well in areas with temperatures of between 10 and 30 degrees Celsius — this means they can grow in nearly every part of the country.

To start off, one needs to identify a piece of moderately fertile land. Level the strawberry patch, with each seedbed one metre wide, with a path of 50cm between the beds to make it easier for spray watering.

For best results, the topsoil should be mixed with manure with the recommended portion of about 15-20kg buckets per square metre.

Other chemicals that are essential before planting is done include Molcap and  Nembidicene at 2gms per hole mixed with the soil.

Once this is done, planting can be carried out at a spacing of 30cm by 30cm, putting the split firmly in the hole with the ground around it properly levelled.

Premature cropping

In the first month, the first and second flowers should be deflowered to prevent premature cropping, and the crops top-dressed with calcium ammonium nitrate (CAN) fertiliser at the rate of one tablespoon/10gms per hole between the plants.

Mulching also needs to be done. Dry grass or hay can be used to help prevent the soil from losing essential water and also to provide a soft bed to cushion the emerging fruits, keeping them clean and enhancing their aesthetic value.

Harvesting is done after the first two and a half months, with the plant being able to flower and fruit for three years continuously.

Strawberries are prone to attacks from fungal diseases, particularly during the rainy season, giving the leaves brown decolourations. It is thus advisable to spray the crop with a fungicide to fight disease.

Strawberries are also prone to attacks from ants, and pesticides are advised to keep the insects at bay.

To grow strawberries for export, choose high quality hybrids like the chandler.

Fruits for export should further be harvested when they are a quarter of the way ripe to avoid over-ripening when they get to the market.

After harvesting, the fruits stay fresh for four to five days.

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