In the outskirts of Limuru town; Kamiritho, Kwa-Mbira village, Kiambu County we meet James Mwangi Kihika who is adding value to strawberry that he grows by processing strawberry jam.
Before he became a farmer, he tried his hands on running small businesses in Limuru town which were not successful thus forced him to return to his home and try his hands on agriculture. “I used to grow various crops before I met officials from Ministry of Agriculture who introduced me to strawberry farming in 2004,” Kihika averred.
According to him, strawberry is one of the easiest crops to grow.They are planted as splits. They have runners which grow away from the parent plant and in turn attach to the ground forming roots. These splits from the parent plant can be planted as seedlings.
During the first weeks of planting the seedlings, water is very important and this determines just how many slits reach maturity.Pollination is also important just as it is in other fruits; the better the pollination the better the fruits. Planting with compost manure and adding fertilizer boost production.
When the fruits have matured and ready for harvesting; that is after two and half months, Kihika opines that he harvests thrice a week for a period of six months.
“I began strawberry jam production in 2006, after attending a seminar on how farmers can maximize their returns by value addition. The seminar was fantastic as we learned that farmers don’t need to acquire big machines to start but they can use ordinary methods,” Kihika said.
After the seminar he and others members formed a group; Ruuri Youth Group where they embarked on value addition of strawberry.
“Our production of jam is very simple; first we harvest the fruits from the farms and buy others from other farmers to mitigate any shortage that befall us. They are inspected for quality, ripeness and afterwards cleaned and crushed,” he said.
The crushed pulp is then pasteurized to kill germs. Interestingly, they use a jiko for pasteurization before adding preservatives. “We usually add sugar to the pulp to sweeten it. We don’t use stevia as normally used by other farmers who are in value addition. Afterwards, we add lemon as a preservative, this makes the jam to be used for a period of one year,” he highlighted.
The jam is packed in 250 grams containers and sold at 200 shillings each to locals in the villages. “We don’t sell to far places due to the fact that we haven’t received Kenya Bureau of Standards (Kebs) stamp, though we have taken our produce for inspection. This has been our biggest challenge as the process is lengthy and cumbersome,” Kihika opined.
They propagate the strawberry seedlings which they plant and also sell along the Nairobi-Nakuru highway.
Since most residents of Limuru have small patches of land, Mr. Kihika advice is that they should grow strawberries and venture into value addition to draw maximum returns.