9 February 2019

Nigeria: Sweet, Sweet Strawberries On the Plateau

Plateau State's unique weather makes it possible to grow various fruits and vegetables that once seemed impossible to Nigerians. In a little over a decade, strawberries have become domesticated in Nigeria, thanks to the zeal and tenacity of some farmers. The sight of women standing by roadsides, selling strawberries, has become common. Jacol village, Chaha, and others in K. Vom district of Plateau's Jos South LGA, are the predominant communities where the fruit is grown.

Pam Dene, working on a strawberry farm in Chaha, told Daily Trust Saturday that the fruits are supplied across the country, especially Lagos, Port Harcourt, Kano, and Abuja. He said he has close to a decade's experience working in a greenhouse, but stressed that strawberries can only grow in open fields.

Dene said about 15 years ago, a few farmers bought the seedlings to try strawberries around the K. Vom general area and after recording success, other locals began to buy the plants from them, to try.

Farmers around Chaha rely on some of the mining ponds around the area for irrigation, but they still have to contend with water-pumping machines.

Garus David, who lives near the Vom Christian Hospital, says she walks about four kilometres to Chaha village, to her strawberry farm. She narrated how, three years ago, a friend convinced her to try cultivating the fruit. "She assured me that the profit was better than that of potatoes, so I tried it."

This year started rough for Garus, who said termites destroyed her strawberry plants. But now it looks good, and her strawberries are bearing fruit, plucked twice-a-week.

The strawberries Garus is presently harvesting, were planted in June 2018, and gradually began to fruit from early October. She said all things being equal, it could continue to bear fruit until rainy season. Strapping an eight-month-old baby on her back, she explained that rain begins, the fruits will cease, as the plants don't thrive then. "That's why it is only planted during dry season."

But back to Dene, he said there are various challenges. "We don't use government fertilizer. The fertilizer we use goes for N8,000 and sometimes N9,000. We also use liquid fertilizer and manure." He said another challenge for strawberry farmers is pests, plus they have to contend with birds and rodents.

By the roadside, along the railway crossing of Dogon Karfe of Jos, Alice Bitrus joined many other women to hawk strawberries, neatly packaged in takeaway packs, to commuters. She buys the fruit from Jacol in K. Vom and takes transportation every morning to come to Jos to sell. "The farmer I buy from happens to be the first person who started planting strawberries in that village. When we buy from the farm at N1,500, we then sell at N1,700 per kilo," she said.

The demand for strawberries keeps climbing, as Alice explained that apart from those who consume it as a fruit, others make juice, bake with it, make ice cream, and so on.

Having abandoned potatoes for strawberries, Garus said it has been worth it. "Though my farm is not very large, I have been farming potatoes for years and most of what I get in a year is a profit of about N40,000. But with strawberries, I'm able to make over N100,000."

But for Alice and others who hawk strawberries, the profit is not as exciting. Having joined the business five years ago, she said she realizes N200 per kilo she sells. But she added that the business has sustained her, and her family. When strawberries are not in season, the sellers return to selling vegetables like cauliflower, broccoli, cucumbers, carrots, and others.

Right now, what all strawberry farmers in Plateau State wish for is a delay in rainfall. "Unlike other farmers who cannot wait for the rain, or even pray for it, we do the opposite," Dene added, smiling.


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