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5 Nov 2013 00:00
BY LILLIAN KIARIE
Of all the crops that Robert Kararu is currently
farming, his strawberries are the biggest source of
pride and joy.
Kararu produces and supplies strawberry seedlings
to other farmers in Nyeri and Karatina towns.
He sells a seedling of chandler strawberries at Sh12,
and once an order is placed, the delivery is done
within three days to the customer’s doorstep.
He also shares reading materials on strawberry
farming and organises farm visits to his farm for
interested farmers so they can see how strawberry
farming is carried out.
High demand, low supply
“The demand and market for strawberries both
locally and internationally is high, and farmers have
been unable to sustain this demand. Many are
losing out on the opportunities,” he said.
Kararu is just one of the many farmers who are
reaping the benefits of growing an often overlooked
fruit that has immense value.
Because not many people engage in strawberry
farming in Kenya, the crop is scarce, which makes it
expensive — guaranteeing good returns for farmers.
Not only does the crop draw high value locally, but
there also exists a rich export market for well-grown
strawberries.
Strawberry farmers provide raw material for a
diverse value chain that includes fruit salads, jam,
milkshakes and smoothies.
Traditionally, strawberry farmers have concentrated
their production for the export market, particularly
in Europe.
Over time, however, the demand for the fruit locally
market has increased.
In addition, an equally lucrative market for
strawberry leaves is emerging. Strawberry leaves
are used for the production of herbal medicine and
for decorative purposes.
A single branch of the plant goes for Sh1.50, with
farmers tying them in bundles of 100 branches that
sell for Sh150.
This means there are great opportunities in the fruit
for anyone willing to venture into growing it right.
Strawberries are grown from cultivars. They do well
in areas with temperatures of between 10 and 30
degrees Celsius — this means they can grow in
nearly every part of the country.
To start off, one needs to identify a piece of
moderately fertile land. Level the strawberry patch,
with each seedbed one metre wide, with a path of
50cm between the beds to make it easier for spray
watering.
For best results, the topsoil should be mixed with
manure with the recommended portion of about
15-20kg buckets per square metre.
Other chemicals that are essential before planting is
done include Molcap and Nembidicene at 2gms per
hole mixed with the soil.
Once this is done, planting can be carried out at a
spacing of 30cm by 30cm, putting the split firmly in
the hole with the ground around it properly levelled.
Premature cropping
In the first month, the first and second flowers
should be deflowered to prevent premature
cropping, and the crops top-dressed with calcium
ammonium nitrate (CAN) fertiliser at the rate of one
tablespoon/10gms per hole between the plants.
Mulching also needs to be done. Dry grass or hay
can be used to help prevent the soil from losing
essential water and also to provide a soft bed to
cushion the emerging fruits, keeping them clean
and enhancing their aesthetic value.
Harvesting is done after the first two and a half
months, with the plant being able to flower and fruit
for three years continuously.
Strawberries are prone to attacks from fungal
diseases, particularly during the rainy season,
giving the leaves brown decolourations. It is thus
advisable to spray the crop with a fungicide to fight
disease.
Strawberries are also prone to attacks from ants,
and pesticides are advised to keep the insects at
bay.
To grow strawberries for export, choose high quality
hybrids like the chandler.
Fruits for export should further be harvested when
they are a quarter of the way ripe to avoid over-
ripening when they get to the market.
After harvesting, the fruits stay fresh for four to five
days.

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