In the wake of the Coronavirus pandemic that has been and is still wreaking havoc across the globe, economies are slowly sinking, jobs and millions of livelihood have been disrupted. Nonetheless, the youth have been making great strides in reinventing themselves to earn a living through valuable skills such as farming.
Edna Njoki Gachane’s success story is another source of inspiration for youth who continue to find ways of reinventing and surviving the Covid times. Edna lost her job in the heat of the pandemic. When she realized the predicament she was in, she wasted no time and immediately decided to venture into strawberry farming. She is yet to celebrate her first year as a strawberry farmer yet she is already smiling from the huge returns she is making out of it.
The Strawberry, scientifically referred to as fragaria x ananassai is cherry like fruit widely appreciated for itscharacteristic aroma, bright colour, juicy texture and sweetness. It is usually consumed either fresh or in foods after processing.
As we head out to locate Edna’s farm, we proceed a few metres from Murang’a town, to St Mary’s village, down a rough sloping terrain where we find this industrious lady, in her mid-twenties, tending to her strawberry plants. She is in the process of packing runners for sale. Edna informs us that she has 6,000 plants of the ever- bearing chanderia variety of strawberry in her quarter acre piece of land.
Without much prompting, Edna readily reveals to us that last year her husband lost his job as a result of the Covid-19 effects. Shortly after, she also lost her job in Nairobi and relocated back to Murang’a where they had been living before she got a job offer in the city.
“We combined our savings and grappled with the idea of growing garlic but upon research we realized that the idea was not viable for us since we would need a large storage area which is not guaranteed in rented apartments,” she said.
“We settled on strawberries after determining that it only requires a high initial capital for starting up after which the management cost is considerably low and the harvest is steady for three years,” she added.
The couple leased land at St Mary’s area. The choice of the area was due to its close proximity to a water source. The research had informed them that this was a prerequisite for successful strawberry farming. As such, in their piece of land, the nearby Murari river serves this purpose.
“With the land in place, we did a lot more research on strawberry farming, and contacted one Agronomist, a Mr. Kimani, from Gatundu South,” Edna said.
The agronomist carried out soil tests, water tests on the site and also supervised on the land preparations. He also helped to outsource the seedlings for them from Kiambu and Nyeri, after advising on the variety that is most suitable for the hot and wet climatic condition of Murang’a.
Following the advice of the agronomist, Edna settled on the chanderia variety which is ever bearing.
“If provided with the right nutrients the fruits can last up to 5 days, after harvesting, without refrigeration. It is also popular for its sweetness and strong flavor,” she affirms.
Edna informs us that the startup cost was quite high because they had to purchase drips for irrigation, mulch paper, water pumps and the strawberry seedlings. However, she opines that the returns are quite satisfactory because just six months into the venture, their agribusiness has already broken even.
“We started by selling runners to farmers around, whereby one potted runner/seedling goes for Shs.50,” she noted.
According to Edna, Strawberries mature in 3-5 months, although a bumper harvest is expected in the 6th month. Each plant can give 20grams weekly which is approximately 60kgs per week.
‘Ami’s farm’ as she has named the project, has not yet managed to meet the demand in the market. People are quickly warming up to the idea of incorporating strawberries in their diets owing to the fruits nutritional value.
On the other hand, this purely organic strawberry farming venture by Edna has had its fair share of challenges.
“We started with 6, 000 plants, half of these dried up due to mismanagement occasioned by hiring different workers. We then decided to stick with one farm hand and to frequently supervise the project in person,” she recalls.
For organic farming, no fertilizers are used on her farm. She uses manure and nutrients such as boron, calcium and potassium for the berries.
Notably, Edna adds that caterpillars, grasshoppers and fungi attacks are eminent. She uses rabbits’ urine to keep off pests. Consequently, she intends to rear rabbits in the farm so that she can have an unlimited supply of the rabbit’s urine.
Edna also informs us that strawberries do well in all types of soil with a PH of between 5.5 – 6.5 apart from sandy and clay soil types. She argues that remote farming will yield disappointments so the farmer has to be involved in the farm and cannot leave it fully in the hands of workers
The tourism and hospitality graduate from Karatina University urges the youth and those who recently graduated to venture into agriculture, noting that jobs are hard to come by in Kenya today.
“On that piece of land, belonging to your parents or guardians; cultivate something like coriander, known as dhania, whose seeds go for as little as Shs.100 or even kales and spinach and upon maturity you can sell them and earn your Shs.1000 or more,” she advised. She concludes by urging the youth to venture into the agricultural or manufacturing sectors so as to earn a living for themselves as well as create employment.