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Strawberry export farming lucrative route for farmers with minimal land

A joint program run by strawberry export company Jaick Agricultural Produce and the Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology is helping farmers navigate the fruit’s lucrative market.

Strawberry farming requires minimal acreage to accrue profits and offers consistent cash flow throughout the year. If a farmer plants strawberries in February by May they will have begun harvesting. This goes on for three years, twice per week given the crop is well maintained. 

“As long as I tend to my strawberries well I am assured of a harvest and a lucrative market for eight consecutive months,” said John Kamau a trainer and farmer under the program.

Unfortunately, only three out of 10 strawberry farmers even make it to market. This is majorly a result of one major factor: Many farmers do not tend to their crops when yields are minimal. “Strawberries need looking after like boiling milk. If you don’t tend to your crop for about two weeks it will be irreversibly damaged.”

Strawberry farming is charaterised by a flush and dry season when harvests can drop 90 per cent. This provides an opportunity to feed and maintain your crop through manuring, pruning as the plant is not flowering or fruiting readying it for the next flash season.

On average, accounting for low and high-volume months, the crop produces 4,800 small, light strawberry containers called punnets.

One strawberry punnet weighs 250 grams. A kilogram of Grade 1 strawberry costs Sh400, the equivalent of Sh100 a punnet. Grade 2 strawberries are sold at Sh280 a kilogram. Grade three, i.e., withered, mangled strawberries have their leaves plucked and used for value addition (juice/yogurt making).   

The returns in strawberry farming are pinned on the quality of your fruits. They are graded 1, 2 and 3. “Grade one strawberries are characteristically thick, healthy fruits and fill up punnets quicker fetching you better about Sh100 a punnet. If you can fit 13-18 fruits in one punnet you’ll be good,”

25 grade two strawberries are packed into one punnet with grade three being made up of anything more than that.

Crop Management

To achieve the best quality fruit, a farmer needs to thoroughly prune their fruits, and offer them plenty of water which swells them up.

“It is also critical for farmers to offer their fruits adequate calcium, as strawberries are very delicate fruits and need the macronutrient to harden skin cell walls, urged the farmer who grows half an acre of the fruit at Juja.

Costs

The major cost associated with strawberry farming is the purchasing of good quality seedlings. Giant Chandler F1 seedlings can be bought from Jaick or JKUAT for Sh80 each. Half an acre of strawberries will consume nine to eleven thousand seedlings spaced 30cm apart.

A strawberry grower will then need animal manure or compost. This quantity will vary depending on the amount of seedlings you are looking to sow. For 1.000 seedlings you will need about five bags of goat manure. This can be substituted/ applied in conjunction with DAP fertiliser.

According to Kamau, strawberry farming isn’t labor-intensive. In two days he said, you can prepare planting beds, apply manure, and sow 1,000 seedlings.

Top dressing is done using 17:17 fertiliser at the one-month stage.

You should pluck out all first and second flowers that appear after 30 days. “The plant doesn’t have established roots so even if it fruits they will be minuscule and emaciated. As it is still too young, the plant cannot cater to the fruit,” he advised.

The flowers that appear after 75 days, the ‘money flowers’, will bear the first fruits.

Jaick Agricultural Produce: 0723146885

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