By Steven Mulanda
William Njoroge Kibe is a man on a mission to disapprove the myth that for one to succeed in farming he should have big chunk of land. According to him, farming carried out in small pieces of land is also rewarding as long as the farmer gets the basics. He started his strawberry farming enterprise eight years ago on an eighth acre at Uthiru, Kiambu County and is earning handsomely.
“When cultivating strawberries what matters is production per plant and not the size of the land. The main issue is to feed the crop well because they are heavy feeders they shoyld also grow organically. Organically grown strawberries tend to yield more and they are the most preferred in the market. They are also big in size, fresh, juicer and have a long shelf life of 12 days compared to those farmed using chemicals. A kilogram of organically grown strawberries retails at Ksh 750 while a punnet of 250 grams goes for Ksh 230,” Kibe states.
When he ventured into strawberry farming, he realized that most strawberry farmers were using chemicals to grow, leading to low quality fruits. As a young farmer, he chose the unbeaten path of organic farming.
Organic farming was developed as a response to the environmental harm caused by the use of chemical pesticides and synthetic fertilizers in conventional agriculture. It has numerous ecological benefits such as use of fewer pesticides, reduction in soil erosion, decreases of nitrate leaching into groundwater and surface water, and recycling of animal wastes back into the soil.
For his crop nutritional purposes; he has incorporated organic fertilizer composed by Black Soldier Flies (BFS) which increases the calcium content. He also applies vermiliquid as a foliar fertilizer to make the crop vibrant, increasing the size and shape of the fruit as well as the levels of potassium which is solely responsible for the sweetening of the fruits.
“For a start in strawberries farming, one needs to get it right when it comes to seedlings. There is a big differences between splits and runners and most farmers prefer purchasing splits which are relatively cheap compared to runners. Splits are basically clones from the mother plant. The disadvantages of splits is they possess the same age with the mother plant meaning if a plant has been grown for 5 years, the strawberries planted are 5 years old. In addition, if the mother plant is infected with diseases then the split is also affected. Unfortunately, most people selling splits are selling old plants and sick plants to farmers who have no idea. But a runner is basically a new plant that has never flowered or produced any fruit. For new farmers, always find time to pay a visit where you are sourcing your seedlings from,” Kibe a certified strawberry seedling propagator explained authoritatively.
To break this dichotomy of farmers falling prey to unscrupulous seedling vendors, he advises new entrants to first undertake trainings to understand the whole concept on farming. “There are many challenges facing strawberry farmers, some of which can only be solved when farmers come into contact with experienced farmers. It is easy to differentiate farmers who have been trained and those that have not by simply looking at their produce,” he says.
He offers trainings to people willing to succeed in strawberries farming. By opening his doors to other farmers, he unknowingly expanded his farming business empire. It is a blessing because after the trainings, the new farmers usually buy runners from him.
“I always tell people to focus on quality because quality never lies. This way most of the clients you sell the produce to become loyal customers and also they help in marketing the produce. At the moment I have an order that I need to supply in Ghana, we normally do online marketing, and it happened a client I had sold strawberries to was travelling to Ghana, when her friends tasted the berries they were impressed and have placed orders,” he said.
He plants two strawberry varieties; San andrea and chandler because they are used for various purposes. For Chandler it is used in processing Jam and juice while San andrea is good for raw consumption and is also used for dipping in chocolate as well as cakes.
“Every single day in farming there are new challenges that usually come up. For instance when it rains fungal diseases are prone to attack the crop and when rain falls on the strawberry flowers they usually abort. We have been able to address this issue by growing strawberries in greenhouses and tunnels,” he said.
There is insatiable demand in the market for the fruit and his advice to farmers is to embrace organic farming. “The more farmers embrace organic farming; not spraying pesticides but healing the soil, the more good food will be available. New farmers should undertake trainings, carryout soil and pathogen test of their soil, start small even with kitchen garden and not farm with lots of stress and pressure; slowly everything will definitely fall in place,” Advised Kibe.