When coronavirus struck the country in March 2020, the Ministry of Health advised Kenyans to boost their immunity by eating fruits.
Faith Nyambura, a mother of one, did not take the advice for granted. She frequented supermarkets for fruits.
She recalls a visit in which she intended to buy kiwi fruits, but her attention was drawn to strawberries.
“A 250g punnet was retailing at Sh250,” Nyambura says.
The price was a surprise and she decided to do some research. The same price cut across almost all outlets Nyambura went to.
“It dawned on me that I could grow the fruits and make them readily available to low and middle-income earners,” she says.
Imported organic oils
With her husband, Nyambura actualised the idea in September 2020. She started with 1, 100 plants.
She now has more than 1,500 strawberry plants on half an acre. “It cost at least Sh250,000 to start the venture,” the 29-year-old says.
Other than seedlings, the capital was used to cater for manure, fertiliser, chemicals and a shade net.
The farmer who previously dealt with imported organic oils and also worked as a cyber cafe attendant, grows the crop on an open field.
She has installed drip irrigation systems, since the region is semi-arid. The water comes from a 30-metre deep borehole.
Situated in Kayole, Naivasha, and about a kilometre from the Nairobi-Nakuru road, Nyambura’s farm is one of a kind.
Upon arrival, one is greeted by thriving strawberry plants in the shade net and others in the open field.
Nyambura grows chandler, a variety she says, is loved by cake makers.
“More than 75 per cent of my clients decorate cakes with these strawberries,” she says.
The customers usually order large amounts – from 20 punnets, with each going for Sh100.A retail buyer will get a punnet for around Sh120.
“They like the big ones with a heart-love shape. These can be easily be sliced in half when decorating a cake,” Nyambura says.
She adds that the pieces are used on strawberry, vanilla and chocolate cakes.
Nyambura has embraced the use of beds. These are raised about two metres from the ground and the soil mixed with animal manure.
Three metres wide, a bed is fit with irrigation pipes where a strawberry plantlet is sown beneath drip line releasing the water. Every bed has three lines.
Exploitation by brokers
The plants are spaced at a 30 centimetre square interval. Strawberries take three months to mature.
Nyambura has been multiplying hers using runners.
“After flowering, we nurture them with fertiliser that is rich in nitrogen, potassium and calcium,” Nyambura’s farmhand Kevin Nyaguoka tells Seeds of Gold.
The most common diseases in strawberry plants are the angular leaf spot, anthracnose, leather and fruit rot, fusarium wilt, powdery mildew and leaf blotch.
Nyambura has covered her beds using dam liners to prevent fruits from rotting and being invaded by ants.
“Because of their appearance, strawberry fruits attract birds, which are some of the most destructive pests. Farmers need to control birds,” Mr Pius Opiyo, an agriculture consultant agronomist says.
Other pests are aphids, mites, ants, caterpillars and thrip. “Farmers should ensure the fruits are grown properly. For a good harvest, let them observe proper hygiene. The crops need to be fed well,” the expert advises.
Mr Opiyo is full of praises for Nyambura’s strawberry farm.
“Maintaining quality and colour will definitely fetch a good market,” he says.
With continuous production, Nyambura harvests her strawberries three times a week. The farmer gets 70 to 100 punnets a day.
Even with Kenyans being advised to take more fruits during the pandemic, the going has not been smooth for Nyambura.
Like many other farmers, middlemen have not spared her venture. They at times make her sell a punnet for as little as Sh70.
“I use matatus to transport the fruits. One must be very careful because they get spoilt when pressed,” says the Diploma in IT holder.
As much as her venture is more of telephone farming as she lives in Nairobi, Nyambura says a reliable worker and consistent communication, has made it outstanding.
Social sites – Facebook Instagram and WhatsApp – are her marketing tools.