By Malachi Motano
John Mutwiri is a school dropout who tastes the sweet success of strawberry farming. Despite his law education level and the frustrations that followed, the 32 years old has managed to make a decent living for himself from strawberry farming in Kenya.
His farm is located just 400 metres from Meru Teaching and Referral Hospital. With a capital investment of Sh10,000, he bought splits which he planted on an eighth of an acre. This was in 2015. Today, he grows his plants on a one-acre piece of land he owns in Kooje Village in Imenti North.
Every Single day he becomes busy , tending to strawberries that he says have proved to be a viable alternative crop for him. “I chose to venture into strawberry farming in Kenya after learning about their high productivity, the low input costs and, more importantly, the good market prices,” says Mutwiri.
He advises colleague farmers who want to venture into the business, to begin with, a strawberry farmer should study his market avenues. Currently, many retail chains, including purchase the sweet fruits from farmers across the country.
“My main client is a yogurt making company in Meru while my smaller customers include juice makers and vendors who sell farm produce at Meru town’s main market,” Mutwiri.
Mutwiri says the the crops mature rather quickly and to keep yields from dropping, one has to continuously replace old plants.
According to Mutwiri, Strawberry plants can last for about four years on the farm. However when they are more than a year or two old, their yields starts to decline. It is important to replace the plants every year to maintain quality. It is also important to only water the roots and not its leaves. Moisture left over on the leaves encourages growth of fungus and other diseases which can be detrimental to the crop.”
He adds that many traders, prefer strawberry which are grown in the open field and not in a greenhouse. That, it is argued that the fruits grown in the open are more productive and have a better taste that those grown in the highly controlled environment of a greenhouse.
Strawberry plants get ready to harvest just three months after planting. however, Mutwiri says are very perishable. If one do not have someone to be checking on them after flowering, the fruits may were rot in the farm.
The crop is harvested once every day to maintain good quality. They are harvested by hand, with grading and packing done in the field before the produce is transported to the market. The fruits are graded on the basis of their weights, size and colour.
He earns approximately Sh12,000, a tidy amount from every daily harvest of 30 kilogrammes of strawberries, which he says he is saving up to start a dairy farm.
However, he considers diversifying since the plants’ extremely delicate nature can be the source of as much pain as the good they bring. That is why he also grows passion fruits.
Therefore every strawberry farmers should invest in buying varieties that are in demand as well hire agricultural experts to test their farms’ soil.