Farmers top image

The new ‘Gold’ in blueberry farming

By Gerard Mutunga
Laban Koima demonstrates the art of harvesting blueberries at the Kakuzi Blueberry farm in Murang'a County. [Gerard Mutunga, standard]

Famed for its numerous health benefits, blueberries are flowering plants from the genus Vaccinium. This plant species is native to North America, most of Asia, Western Europe, and Scandinavia. However, thanks to agricultural firm Kakuzi, the succulent fruit is finding a new home in Kenya.

The listed firm has been producing tea, avocados, macadamia, and trees besides keeping livestock and bees.

Kakuzi has heavily invested in the new venture where ten hectares have been planted with the plant and already fruiting and feeding export markets within countries in the European Union.

Blueberries are sold fresh and can also be processed to make a wide variety of other products such as juice, jam, cakes, and wine.

According to, Mr. Laban Koima, the officer managing the blueberry production farm at Kakuzi, a single blueberry plant can produce up to five kilograms per years and one can harvest continually once it starts producing fruits.

“Blueberries have very high value, a single plant in a year can produce five kilograms, a single kilo in the market is more than Sh1600. It’s a very lucrative venture.” Laban says.

“In this pilot plan we have started with 10 hectares, we intend to increase to 20 after the initial success, and in the long term, we plan to do 200 hectares. He adds.

At Kakuzi, the production is controlled to ensure maximum yields, however, Laban advices that anyone can grow the plant locally.

“Our farming is controlled, but this does not mean we cannot grow it locally, the only challenge is that the yields may be low.” He opines.

Blueberries have earned the reputation of super fruit and evidence indicates that the fruit is rich in nutrients like fiber, vitamin K, vitamin C, iron, and large amounts of manganese.

Blueberries also contain resveratrol, which is a phytoalexin that is produced by plants when they are experiencing a bacterial or fungal infection; Phytoalexins are antibacterial and antifungal chemicals that are produced by plants as a means of protection against pathogens. Research has shown that blueberry chemical properties provide protection against chronic diseases.

In addition to resveratrol, blueberries contain anthocyanins and polyphenol antioxidant pigments that have been shown to help reduce the risk of getting some diseases such as certain types of cancers, a fact that Laban shares.

“They have so many roles in the body, protection against aging and cancer, maintain brain function, may lower blood pressure, have anti-diabetic effects, and prevent heart diseases among many,” Laban explains.

Blueberries do well in acidic soil. The soil PH should ideally be between four and five. The more organic matter added the more tolerance to acidity blueberries will have.

The crop is a shallow-rooted plant so it requires a soil that holds moisture, but also drains well and doesn’t stay wet.

Like many of its previous products, Kakuzi hopes to transfer blueberry farming skills to the locals once the trial stage is complete.

“We believe in empowering the community around us and coexist by imparting our expertise with them. Just like we have been doing with avocados, and in the same spirit which we share water and construction of roads. Says Simon Odhiambo, the General Corporate Affairs Manager.

The plant bears small blueberry fruits that have a dark purple color.

Blueberry shrubs grow in a variety of sizes that vary from a few inches to 10 feet. The plant also makes colored flowers which may be one of many colors like white, pale pink, red, and sometimes light green. The plant bears small blueberry fruits that have a dark purple color.

 

© Copyright 2019 - The Standard Group PLC