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What I do to ensure high quality strawberries for my customers

Friday July 24 2015

Farmer David Nyamweya shows you what you, too,

Farmer David Nyamweya shows you what you, too, can do to profit from this fruit, and the challenges. RACHEL KIBUI | NATION MEDIA GROUP

RACHEL KIBUI
By RACHEL KIBUI
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Touts call for passengers on top of their voices as vehicles hoot incessantly at the main bus terminus in Naivasha town.

It is not hard for me to spot farmer David Nyamweya at the busy terminus. We had agreed to meet here before heading to his farm, some 10km away.

In his right hand is a heavy box full of strawberries he was going to deliver to a customer. Nyamweya grows strawberries on his half-acre farm.
We exchange pleasantries, and I accompany him to a shop where he was to deliver the cargo.

Nyamweya sells the 250g packs to the wholesaler at Sh120 each. For retailers, the same pack goes for Sh150.

We leave after he receives his money, head back to the terminus, and board a matatu to Karati, a small town about 10km from Naivasha Town.
It takes us about 20 minutes to arrive at his Valley Green Fruits Farm.

The farm is dotted with red ripe fruits seated on dark green plants.

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Nyamweya, 30, joins two of his three employees in picking the strawberries as he enquires if the drip irrigation water was pumped in the morning.

“The water drips for 40 minutes twice a day particularly when they are flowering. Water helps in building of mass and is also used as a medium of feeding the plants with potassium and calcium through the roots. During the other times, 20 minutes a day is enough, but the minutes reduce when it rains,” says Nyamweya, who has leased the land at Sh4,000 annually. An acre costs double the amount.

The workers pick the fruits to make an order of 150 packs to be delivered to different clients in Nairobi.

They include the Norfolk Hotel, several outlets of Naivas Supermarket and groceries in Muthaiga and Adams Arcade.

“I got the clients by walking into their premises and presenting my samples, and I was later asked to supply. Some saw my adverts in Facebook and called me.”

FACEBOOK PAGE

Nyamweya markets his produce on social media through a Facebook page named Valley Green Fruits.

“I harvest between 100 and 150 250g packs every day depending on the orders. For the top clients, I ensure they get the bigger fruits,” says Nyamweya. The fruits mature between four and six months.

For the small ones and those that are too ripe, he takes them to his wife, who manufactures jam and sells it at Sh300 per 250g pack.

A 2008 Egerton University School of Food Science graduate, Nyamweya sought the direct market for his produce after a broker exploited him. “When I just started, he would buy a pack at Sh80 and sell at Sh140 reaping from my sweat.”

So what does he do to ensure he has quality fruits to supply to his clients?

Nyamweya practices plasticulture, which involves using plastic materials to farm.

He mixes the soil with organic manure, makes beds and covers them with a plastic paper.

“The plastic material helps to keep moisture in the soil, thus, ensuring the plants remain hydrated and are weed free,” explains Nyamweya, who runs the enterprise with a friend.

Besides, the paper holds the fruits keeping them clean, dry, free of pests and ultimately, it makes them easy to pick.
To keep off weeds, he spreads dry plant materials in between the rows of the beds holding the fruits.

Nyamweya, with his business partner, has leased six acres around the farm to ensure someone else does not plant crops that may introduce pests.

His farm is pest free. Reasons? “The plastic and the plant materials that I spread in between beds have helped a great deal but I also have a fence made of a net around the farm controlling movement of people and animals. Those two in most cases are the carriers of weeds,” he says.

His farming journey dates back to 2013, when with six friends, he decided to jointly try his luck on growing strawberry.

They invested Sh300,000 from their savings. The money went into leasing land, fencing, connecting the irrigation system and preparing the plastic culture system. They first planted in April, last year.

The first crop was ready in October, where they harvested 256kg of fruits but just as they were readying for the second harvest, the crops were attacked by red spider mites.

“Four of my partners withdrew after the loss, leaving Zack Njeru, a banker based in Tanzania, and I in the project,” he recalls.

“I sought the intervention of an agronomist who advised me to chop off the leaves and wait until the plants sprouted again.”
He was also advised against pruning the plants as he was doing and encouraged to keep his crops watered all the time.

“I also learnt of a technique that involves adding some fertiliser in irrigation water to keep the plants and fruits healthy,” says Nyamweya, who gets his water from a nearby dam.

This is his first major harvest, he says, having harvested some little fruits in December last year and early this year.

Before venturing into full-time farming, he had worked for several companies as a market research assistant, lab technician and online content manager but was uncomfortable with employment.

POLLINATION

At the corner of his farm, Nyamweya has a beehive. He says he placed it there so that the bees can help in pollination.

In total, the farm hosts 6,000 strawberry plants, 5,500 of which are the Ever Bearing variety while 500 are the Seascape variety, which he imported from California in the US.

“I harvest bigger and sweeter fruits from the variety from US.”

He is yet to break even in the venture partly due to initial losses but the project currently is running and maintaining itself. He plans to expand his business by adding strawberry and introducing raspberries, as soon as he discusses with his partner.

For anyone wishing to get into the business on an acre, he says, one should factor in the following costs. The cost of leasing land, which depends on regions. Seedlings go for Sh30 each. For 6,000 seeds, one needs Sh180,000.

There is also land preparation and bed making, which cost about Sh50,000.

Fertilisers will cost Sh21,000 per month while plastic material goes for Sh1,000 and labour Sh7,000 monthly.Running capital to date is 325,000.

Even as he plans for expansion, he will be keen on the number of employees. Initially, he had seven as he overestimated the labour and would pay them weekly wages amounting to Sh12,250. But the amount dropped significantly when he settled on three.

Nyamweya says he is working on getting clearance from the Kenya Bureau of Standards to enable him produce different flavours for strawberry-based jams.

The Ever Bearing variety, according to Pius Opiyo, a consultant agronomist, is the best as it bears fruits almost all-year round. He says strawberries need adequate watering to keep them flowering.

To keep off pests, Opiyo advises, the crop should be grown in a clean environment free from bushes and weeds.

“Scouting is also necessary so that the farmer may detect any pests, that may attack the strawberries,” says Opiyo, adding strawberries are prone to caterpillars, spider mites, aphids and thrips.

The crop needs to be fed with enough nitrogen, calcium and potassium for health benefits as well as boosting its sweetness.

However, Opiyo advises on need to keep in touch with an agronomist to get advice on which nutrients to provide to the fruits.