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Strawberry left me broke, but I picked up the pieces

Mr William Njoroge Kibe at his Uthiru farm in Nairobi where he grows strawberry with his brother, Robert Gitau

Mr William Njoroge Kibe at his Uthiru farm in Nairobi where he grows strawberry with his brother, Robert Gitau

Sometime last year in January, Mr William Njoroge Kibe and his brother Mr Robert Gitau Kibe had an eureka moment while watching TV.

What excited them was a story of a farmer growing strawberries, and she was doing very well.

As they watched her explain how she was growing the crop and the money she was making, the brothers were convinced that they had finally got what to do with their idle land in Uthiru, on the outskirts of Nairobi.

“We had been looking for a lucrative agricultural venture that did not demand a lot of space. The only thing that we did not like was that she was using inorganic fertiliser to grow the crop but for us we wanted organic,” explains Njoroge.

Nonetheless, after about four months of online research about the strawberry variety called Chandler and talking to farmers for advice, they set up their farm in Uthiru.

The brothers resolved to use plastic culture to grow the crop. Plastic culture is a technique that involves mixing soil with manure between two sheets of polythene bags.

This helps to keep the soil moist for as long as two months without having to water the plants.

“We had researched online about the technique. We also found through the internet someone who could supply us with runners (seedlings).”
Njoroge and Gitau invested Sh20,000 in the project.

“We bought 650 seedlings each at Sh20. It was a good deal since other farmers were selling theirs at Sh30. Part of the capital went into preparing the land,” explains Gitau.

They planted and waited for four months to get their first harvest.

“The crops did well. The strawberries came out but they were too tiny and tasteless. We could not even harvest and sell them to anyone.”
When they called the supplier to find out what could have gone wrong, he asked them to be patient.

“It was a painful experience for us. He promised us that the next fruits would be good, but this did not happen,” says Gitau. They later learned that they had planted sub-standard seedlings.

“When we contacted the supplier the first time, he assured us he had the best seedlings, and on the day we went to pick them at his farm in Zambezi, we found him waiting at his gate with the crops. We did not even see his farm,” they recount.

To avoid loss, the brothers would harvest the tiny berries and blend them in milk to make yoghurt. They later uprooted the crops and fed them to cows. However, this experience did not deter them from trying to achieve their dream of being farmers.

“Giving up was not an option. We again went back to the internet and looked for someone else who was selling seedlings.

We settled on a farmer in Ruaka, who was using manure to grow the crop,” says Njoroge.

This time they made sure that they first visited his farm to see how the crop was doing.

“We tasted his fruits and they were exactly what we wanted. If the fruit on the plant looks miserable or tastes sour, you will know that it is not a good crop,” says Gitau.

They thereafter bought the seedlings and planted them.

It’s now six months since they planted the crop, which did well after four months.

However, they changed the course of their business.

“We ventured into selling runners as we realised that one earns more money from the trade.”

The brothers sell each runner at Sh35 and make Sh95,000 a month. A 250gm container of organically grown berries sells at Sh300.

He advises that one should not buy all seedlings at once as they venture into farming the crop. “Strawberries produce runners gradually, which you can harvest and expand your acreage.”

HEALTH BENEFITS

Strawberries have ellagic acid, which can help fight cancers

Strawberries have flavonoids, which help reduce cholesterol from clogging up the heart’s arteries

Strawberries help whiten stained teeth because of various acids they have

When you eat eight strawberries, you get more vitamin C than what an orange can offer

-nation

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