Why you should consider strawberry farming

Davis Munene took a gamble from his well paying applications developer job to venture into strawberry farming. The co-founder of Valley Green Farm Limited has not looked back, four years down the line. In fact, he is expanding the business and diversifying it. He shares his journey with Dhahabu Kenya.

What was the idea behind starting farming and when did you start?

Our farming business is for posterity, we are building this business in order to secure the futures of our families and also be able to raise entrepreneurs in our children unlike the employee education we have in our schools.

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At the onset of the business, this was purely an avenue to get into real estate business after profits came in but it has become the sole business that we will be focusing until we get a breakthrough in the East and Central Africa.

I started farming as an enterprise in 2012.

Where do you farm and what amount of capital did you invest?

We farm in Naivasha at a place called Karati. It boarders Kinangop and Naivasha town.

We raised 400,000/- as partners on the onset but we have progressively pumped in extra to run the farm, we are currently doing farm expansion into 5 acres of strawberry land and we are raising around sh5,000,000 for the same.

Was there a specific reason that made you decide on the strawberry farming? What research did you do to assist you make a decision.

Many reasons led to us focusing on strawberries. It’s a healthy fruit and it ranks 50 on the best antioxidant sources, 27th best food in the United States of America and the 4th best among all fruits (behind blackberries, cranberries, and raspberries).

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In leading producers of strawberries, they earn amazing profits compared to many fruits, its prices are stable in the market (there is minimal price fluctuations) and it’s a fruit that can be processed into many by-products such as jams, jellies, flavor, syrups etc.

We focused our research on global market trends (esp on healthy products) and narrowed down on the opportunities in Kenya and East Africa to explore the growth, manufacturing and distribution of strawberry products. We visited many small holders farmers in Kenya and compared production methods with other countries, this led us to focus on day-neutral strawberry varieties planted using plasti-culture system.

How difficult or easy is it to farm away from where you live?

It’s fairly demanding to run a strawberry farm but from my experience not impossible to be in the farm every day as I commute from Nairobi. When the job in  the farm is demanding, I take spend my nights in Naivasha.

How much do you make on average as profits in a month? How much revenues do you also make a month? What are your recurrent costs and how are they incurred?

The portion we have right now is ½ acre of land with approximately 6000 strawberry plants. We have managed to break-even and with the expansion this year we expect to get into a big positive.

The fruit has 4 months of production cycle and every cycle we get 400g per plant.

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50 percent of the harvest is grade 1, which are sold in punnets of 250g at sh150 each.

40 percent are grade 2 which are used in making jams.

10 percent are rejects.

Subsequent harvest cycles lead to good profits.

Our recurrent costs are on wages, fertilizers, land rent, packaging materials. Over time we have managed to bring down the total production costs to 40 percent of our total revenues.

Please comment on doing business with individuals vis-a-vis institutions? Do you have a preference? Which one and why?

Valley Green Farm Limited does business with both individuals mostly from the baking club of Kenya as well as institutions that include groceries, hotels & resorts, supermarkets and dairy creameries.

Institutions buy in bulk and can service a large order unlike individuals. But the individuals pay way better than the institutions.

The aspect of credit purchase and cash sales also plays a big role in balancing who we sell to at a particular harvesting day.

What challenges do you face in your business?

There are many but there is no business that does not have challenges. What I have learnt is how to manage them.

It ranges from agronomy challenges; diseases, flower abortions, delayed or stagnant growths, pests (which love the strawberries). We have an agronomist whom we have partnered with to help us mitigate these challenges.

Human resource is another challenge. Labor fees and wages in Naivasha are high and volatile human capital at times leaves you alone in the farm! We have managed to spread the risk by employing workers who buy the vision of the company but too earn more as we harvest more quality fruits. The more they work towards a good quality and high quantity yield the more they earn too.

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Cash flow balance. In the beginning I sold all fruits to one store that would pay after 3 months. Imagine running the business without any cash in between that period! So we have  managed to get more cash buyers, negotiated for shorter credit periods and re-channeled earn revenue back to the running of the farm.

Regulation; from city council to Kenya Bureau of Statistics (KEBS), there are so many bottlenecks in the system. Delayed delivery and harassment at times! Being friends with them does the magic in this case.

Do you do any value addition or processing? How is it facilitating your bottom-line?

We use 40 percent of the harvest (2nd grades) to make high fruit content and reduced sugar jams and ice cream toppings. Revenues are way better than that of selling fresh fruits. We have recently gotten permits to produce from KEBS so we are good to go with the production, marketing and distribution of our jams and ice cream toppings around East Africa

Are there some regulatory requirements that you need in order to better trade? Say things like licenses..

Selling fresh fruits has minimal regulation if you do not have a brick and mortar stall to sell. Other than permits with city council to hawk the fruits (;), its as good as no regulation.

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For the jams and ice cream toppings we have had to adhere to KEBS standards act (CAP 496 of the law of Kenya) we had to meet KS 05-139 Kenya Standards Specifications for jams, jellies and marmalades.

How is the market like for strawberries in Nairobi and Kenya in general?

There is a growing concern by the middle and high level civilians in Kenya and therefore strawberries are becoming marketable. We have taken time to educate the buyers on the benefits of strawberries and our jams. So we believe it is a growing market with great potential.

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Most buyers are from pastry shops and health conscious individuals.

We also invite our customers to the farm to pick their own fruits. Slowly its growing into a viable market.

Any other comment!

It has taken us time and persistence to stay in the game. We have failed and picked up again and we believe good tidings are on the way. I thank my wife who is also my business partner and producer of the jams & ice cream toppings, my three other business partners and God.

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