Rural farmer mints strawberry-flavoured cash in rare venture
Every three days, you can find Jane Wangeci at her one-acre farm in the Sagana Settlement Scheme in Mathira Constituency, Nyeri County, harvesting strawberries.
She started the venture in 2012 and so far, things are looking up. With proceeds from strawberry farming, she has educated her children up to university.
So how did she land into this?
“I noticed a woman in the village was growing strawberries on her farm and I was impressed by the amount of money she was making. I decided to buy 2,000 shoots from her and dived in,” Wangeci says.
Since then, she has never looked back. She now has 50,000 plants, a strawberry nursery and has convinced some neighbours to join the bandwagon.
Join the bandwagon
Three times a week, she harvests the delicious red berries. On Mondays, she harvests between 30 and 40 kgs, while on Wednesday, she picks 20 kgs. On Fridays, she collects 45 kgs from her picking.
She sells a kilo at between Sh100 and Sh200 depending on the grade of the strawberry.
“There are two grades of strawberries. Grade 1 is the best and can fetch between Sh100 and Sh80 per kg, while Grade 2 can fetch Sh45 per kg,” she says.
On average, she can make between Sh4,000 to Sh6,000 per week.
However, before she could make any profits from her venture, it was a learning curve. She had to embrace best practices to increase yields.
The first step was to identify the right variety to cultivate. She started out with the the Woodland variety in 2012 but switched to the Chandler last year.
“Chandler has higher productivity, the berry is bigger, resistant to diseases and has a longer shelf-life which is important for me as a farmer” she explains.
Unlike the other varieties, Chandler can be on transit for three days and the buyers will still have time to sell them.
To boost her yields, she also practices crop rotation every two years to ensure she does not deplete soil nutrients and also to keep pests and diseases at bay.
“When cultivating strawberries, it is important to ensure you do not expose them to excess pesticides and herbicides, so I find organic ways to control them,” says Wangeci. One unique way Wangeci controls thrips is planting a few onion plants amongst the strawberries, the pungent smell of the onions keeps most pests away.
It is important to avoid planting the berries during the rainy seasons.
Strawberries grow better in an open plot of land with direct sunlight most of the day.
She plants the splits at least two feet apart and a foot between the rows.
One should ensure the roots are covered but the crown should be at the soil surface.
An acre will take at least 25,000 splits of the strawberries.
“The soil should be mixed with well decomposed manure before transplanting the splits that must be consistently watered until new leaves sprout,” she explains.
It takes at least 75 days for the splits to mature and start bearing fruit, and the mother plant can continue producing fruits for the next three years.
Dealing with diseases
One challenge is cutworms which attack after planting and thrips during the flowering stage.
On diseases, blight has been common, which she controls with herbicides.
She has three main clients who buy her strawberries. One sells her berries to the local markets and hotels while the other delivers to Nairobi. The most notable is a broker who buys her berries in Uganda.
“I wish I had a direct access to the market but for now, I sell to brokers who often determine the prices,” she says.
To supplement her income, she has started a strawberry nursery besides a greenhouse to expand her venture.
“I have six neighbours who are now engaging in strawberry farming who started after seeing my success, and I sell to them the seedlings (shoots) and offer them advice,” Wangeci says.
Wangeci hopes to enroll more farmers into strawberry farming so that some day, they would form a cooperative and access markets directly.