By Fredrique Achieng’
Jaick Agricultural Produce (JAP), which specialises in exporting strawberries to the Middle East, is hunting for more farmers to supply it with regular deliveries of high-quality strawberries, as demand for the fruit continues to outstrip supply, both in Kenya and in key export markets, where the fruit is eaten whole and used to make jam, juice and food additives.
The current demand is 20 tonnes a week, reports JAP, but the company has yet to source half that volume. “Our biggest, current export market is suffering due to the closure of airports – before the pandemic we would export close to seven tonnes a week, but now we are only exporting three tonnes over the same time. But, nonetheless, we are still looking for more farmers to register with us,” said JAP CEO Benson Maina.
According to TRIDGE global market analyst, Kenya produces 830 tonnes of strawberries a year, compared with domestic demand of 15,000 tonnes a year. This means up to 90 per cent of strawberries consumed in Kenya are imported.
“The fruit has a wide range of use in the food industry, both in Kenya and the export market. Therefore, there is need to continually encourage farmers to get into its farming and for those who have already started, they need to be taught about value addition for the fruit”, said Benson.
Currently, JAP has 82 members – some of them registered as individual farmers, some as farmers groups. The company runs training for each of their members to equip them to produce the fruit to commercial standards and provides them export services where they need them.
For farmers applying to join the JAP programme, the company first arranges a farm visit by the company agronomist who tests soil and water at the cost of Sh4,000 for the soil test and Sh4,800 for the water test. This is done because JAP focuses on organic farming, where there is no use of synthetic fertilizer or any other form of chemical to boost the productivity of the fruit.
“The use of synthetic fertilizer is good, but unfortunately the majority of small-scale farmers do not know how to apply it and this results in too much chemical presence, both in the soil and water, which, over time, will result to farmland not being as productive as before,” said Benson.
Depending on the test results, farmers then sign a contract with JAP, which assigns them a trained agronomist to take them through the processes of farming, harvesting and marketing, both locally and to export markets.
“If the soil or water does not meet the requirements, we give the farmer recommendations on how to boost their soil health,” said Benson.
For those who move into the strawberry production, JAP recommends the Chandler variety, for its longer shelf life of 48 hours, compared with 36 hours for most other varieties. This extra time helps with both exporting and value addition, which both boosts returns considerably for producers.
A kilo of Chandler strawberries retails for Sh2,200 in the Middle East, compared with a sales price of Sh90 to Sh120 in Kenya, which is why JAP focuses on the export market.
“Looking at the lucrative price of the Chandler variety in the export markets coupled with its ability to resist common diseases that affect strawberries, we continue to educate our farmers on the best markets and value addition in the farming of the fruit,” said Benson.
JAP can be reached on 0723146885 or 0785416398