Gooseberries: the farmer makes wild dreams come true with berries

Fruit farmer Salim Maina at his fruit farm in the village of Kaplelach, Uasin Gishu County, on July 20, 2022. [Christopher Kipsang, Standard]

Growing up in Turbo, near the town of Eldoret in Uasin Gishu County, Salim Maina, an agricultural engineering technician, knew gooseberries only as another wild fruit.

But in 2020, when the Covid-19 pandemic hit, Mr. Maina, 52, learned that the wild fruit that grew naturally in the groves in his village of Kaboi, and which he often tasted as a boy, was a high crop. value.

Previously, Mr. Maina had worked for 20 years at Autospares agricultural machinery outlets in Nairobi and Eldoret, then decided to quit and try growing gooseberry fruit on his farm in Kiplombe.

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To begin with, he detached half an acre of his 94-acre farm, launching the gooseberry fruit farm as a pilot project.

Slowly it began. He purchased his first seeds from Kenya’s Agricultural and Livestock Research Organization (KALRO) and also received some tips on propagating the fruit. He chose to grow the cape variety which was adaptable to the local climate.

“Everything was new. There are not many agricultural experts with knowledge of gooseberry cultivation in Uasin Gishu. I learned that it was not right to uproot the first crop. After training a KALRO expert, I learned that I had to cut the crop and maintain practices such as pruning and weeding, ”explains Mr. Maina.

Gooseberries are low in calories and fat, but high in nutrients. [iStockphoto]

Hit and Miss

Being a rookie, his only point of reference was his sister who was among the pioneers of growing the fruit on a commercial basis.

“I first heard about the cultivation of gooseberries as a commercial project from my sister Viola who had secured a market and needed producers because the demand for fruit was high. I decided to try it on my farm. I was lucky to have inherited a large farm from my father, ”says Mr. Maina.

While trying to stabilize the project, he encountered many thorns along the way.

It met a serious challenge with the cape variety after yields dropped in the first season. It takes one to three years for the plants to produce berries, but for some reason her yields were significantly low. It was a big blow to him.

“I had to uproot the entire crop a few months after my first harvest and replace it with the Columbia variety. It was disheartening because I wasn’t able to supply enough fruit to the market, but I had to increase the acreage from half an acre to 2, 5. Later, the new variety blossomed and my earnings improved.

After doing more research, he learned that the cape variety produces higher yields and had to go back to the same variety. She learned that she was doing the wrong spacing and how to prepare and plant gooseberry seedlings.

“In the beginning, my distancing had expired. I started with two meters by two but later, when I found that there was a large space between the rows, I reduced the distance to 1.5m by 1m. For planting, I dig a hole 1.5 feet deep, 1.5 feet in diameter a month before planting and mix the soil in the hole with animal manure because there is a strong demand for organic products in the export market. ” , explains.

She learned the art of growing fruit by networking with other gooseberry growers and attending KALRO training courses.

Proper cultivation of crops

Now appreciate the importance of proper spacing, use of quality manure, and when to root out the crop.

The agricultural engineer uses animal manure and, occasionally, foliar fertilizer. According to him, the export market prefers organically grown crops. He also borrows a lot of information from Google. Over time, the gooseberry has thrived and is now enjoying its sweet returns. Mr. Maina sells a kilo of gooseberries to Sh50.

On average, Mr. Maina harvests an average of 300kg of gooseberry fruit per week from the 2.5 acres and hopes to double the acreage since the beginning of next year.

“There is a small number of farmers in Uasin Gishu and we are unable to meet the market demand,” he adds.

Mr. Maina’s sister Viola, an established gooseberry grower with a large network who buys and sells gooseberries in Eldoret, was Maina’s only buyer.

Viola, produces spicy and sweet sauce, yogurt, jam and dried fruit from gooseberries and has opened a processing plant in Ilula, on the outskirts of the city of Eldoret.

“The cultivation of gooseberries has come a long way. There was no value chain when I started. KALRO had started a campaign to promote underutilized high-value crops, but there was no market and farmers uprooted the crop. I started by supplying the fruit in Eldoret’s supermarkets and at the beginning the customers didn’t believe that a fruit that grows naturally in rural areas could have any value. But after some time, they started buying and the demand grew. That’s when I started adding value, ”she explains. The fruit, he says, has many health benefits.

“Gooseberries are low in calories and fat, but high in nutrients. People have come to appreciate the sweetness of gooseberries and nutritional values, and today I get several phone calls to deliver the fruit.”

Viola says that to meet the production of gooseberry jam, salsa and yogurt, among other products, she needs 500 acres of farmland, which is far from being achieved.

He says there are countless small farmers in Uasin Gishu County who grow gooseberry fruit.

“Seeing that many people weren’t warming up to the idea, I decided to introduce gooseberry cultivation to my relatives. I am happy that they are my main suppliers,” says Viola.

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