Why more farmers should engage in GOOSEBERRY FARMING

Why more farmers should engage in GOOSEBERRY FARMING

Gooseberries, the wonder fruit which was traditionally growing as a wild fruit has been improved and is being cultivated as an agribusiness crop. According to researchers, gooseberry is favored because of its excellent source of vitamins A, B, and C, rich in protein and phosphorus, making it a darling among the rising health conscious consumers.

Viola Maina is one of the farmers who is farming Gooseberries. She is carrying out her farming enterprise under Gooseberry Delight a company she incorporated in 2018 in the outskirts of Eldoret in Uasin Gishu County.

Her interest in gooseberries was triggered after visiting the biggest gooseberry farm in Tigoni, and discovering the potential the fruit had in the Kenyan market. The farm had partnered with KALRO and they were researching on improved varieties suitable for cultivation in Kenya. The demand in the global market was huge but no farm in Kenya had the capacity to meet or sustain the required quantities. Surprising, over 30,000 free gooseberry seedlings from KALRO had been distributed to farmers across the country as part of a national wide campaign to promote commercial cultivation of underutilized fruits in Kenya. However, most farmers who had received the free seedlings had abandoned the crop. The opportunities and market challenges, gave her the motivation to start the gooseberry project with a vision of becoming the largest buyer and processor in Kenya.

“Besides growing, we have been able to produce a range of gooseberry value added products using gooseberry fruit as an ingredient. We have the dried fruits, gooseberry jam, juice, yogurt and a hot and sweet gooseberry sauce. We hope to start selling soon once we get certification from the Kenya Bureau of Standards (KEBS). A number of challenges made us decide start doing value added products from gooseberry fruits. First, during peak season, we experience over production from farmers which makes it difficult for us to uptake everything due to market limitation. Secondly, most of our buyers prefer to buy our gooseberry fruits packed without husks. This forces us to remove the husks before packaging. During removal of husks, we get lot of damaged waste and small sized fruits which we have to discard as waste since we cannot pack or sell them. Thirdly, from experience, the margins we get from selling gooseberry as fresh fruits are very low. Value added products have better margin which we believe will help increase our profits. Finally, not all people don’t enjoy the sweet and tangy taste of gooseberry fruits. This greatly affects demand for the fruits hence using the gooseberry fruit as an ingredient in making our products will greatly increase consumptions and demand for the fruit.The leaves of the gooseberry are utilized as medicinal tea.

Gooseberries are organically grown and fall under the African Underutilized Vegetables. The fruits need to be promoted because if you eat AUVs you are eating medicine as food. This is why the Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organization (KALRO) rolled out a campaign to promote the cultivation of these fruits such as guavas, gooseberry and jack fruits on a commercial scale,” Viola elucidated.

Gooseberry fruit is easy to cultivate. It requires very little inputs and water for its production; meaning they can survive well in harsh climatic conditions. Even with little production cost, farmers in Uasin Gishu are still inclined to production of other crops due to limited information, quality seeds and market. However, Viola has been able to partner with KALRO and they are now able to provide training, good quality seeds and market at affordable prices to farmers

Director of Crops Systems at KALRO Dr. Lusike Wasilwa has on several occasions opined that the neglected fruits are nutritious, climate resilient and economically viable in the right setting and adapt to local conditions. “In the past, these fruits have been ignored by agricultural research, not included in agricultural extension curriculum, and did not benefit from organized value chains. However, due to their adaptability and nutritional qualities, they could make a major contribution to increased food availability, affordability, and nutrition security,” stated Dr. Wasilwa. For farmers, the fruit is the next big thing after it was selected by the government among the 100 crops for commercialization in the Big 4 Agenda.

“With time and the marketing strategies we had rolled out, the demand of the fruit became enormous and we had to go back to our farmers to help them to be able to scale up their production. We have 15 farmers who are doing an average of around 1 to 5 acres and our largest farmer is based in Kitale cultivating 20 acre” Viola stated.

“The common practice of gooseberry farming is propagation through seeds that are used to produce seedlings. It is important to note that seedlings propagated from seeds are vigorous and are hardy with a high germination rate. The seed germinate 7 to 15 days after sowing” she said

The payoff of agri- business is to be consistently getting equipped with more knowledge. According to Viola agriculture may look simple but it’s an art and science and a lot of knowledge is needed. For her case she enrolled for a 9-week training program with SINAPIS College to learn more on grit is of running a successful agri-business. “In the training we learned a lot, it majorly targets startups and one of the major thing was finances, keeping records in order and what one needs to do when starting a business as well as coming up with prices of the products because you don’t just wake up and start selling products at prices you feel are fit for you. Human resource is another aspect that came out handy; employing qualified people to assist you in managing the business. Employing relatives with the aim of trying to cut cost and saving is a precarious for failure,” Viola commented

One of the biggest challenges she encountered at the beginning was marketing, convincing supermarkets that what she was selling was of good quality though eventually after persuasions she has managed to overcome that.

Her parting shot is; those who have aspirations to farming kindly come and join us because the future is agriculture.

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