… Hope of young entrants thinking big bleaks
In the cold city of Jos, the Plateau State capital, scores of youths have found love in strawberry cultivation, many hoping to change their lives through business in the heart-shaped red fruit, but certain dynamics are changing the prospects.
Daily Trust has been following the production trend of the fruit for over four years and this reporter went back to Chaha strawberry farms, in Jos South LGA, where the first detailed report was done on February 19, 2015 to ascertain developments since then.
This reporter went to the site where many of the youths have their farms and found that production is expanding, more are coming in, but others are leaving too – for many reasons.
This is the peak of production (January to March) when glut raises worry in the farmers because whatever happens – whether there are good buyers or not – you can’t delay harvest.
Exotic but highly perishable, strawberry harvest is usually done in the early hours of the morning and by 8am, it’s everywhere along the highways hawked by women hoping to make as much as what the farmer gets per kilogramme at the farm gate.
These women are sometimes the only hope of the farmers who do not have access to good market for their produce or cold room/facilities to store for even a few days.
Despite strawberry being an expensive though highly demanded fruit in most parts of Nigeria, these poor smallholder farmers do not know how to access the good buyers and they are left frustrated.
Their situation is further compounded by the lack of federal and the state governments’ interest and support to organise the farmers and attract private sector players. The farmers’ stories point to a bleak future for a highly valued fruit with huge potentials to create wealth for many young citizens of the state and other young Nigerians falling in love with it.
Sweet and sour: the farmers’ stories
Mr Justin Patrick, a young veterinarian, feels that lack of an organised market is frustrating farmers like him.
He harvests four cartons (of 5 to 6 kg each) twice a week, which gives him an average of N32,000 weekly at N800 per kg. But with a better market, he could make N50,000 weekly (about N1m five months a year) from his one acre farm.
Similarly, Mr Pam Deme, a young greenhouse designer who also cultivates strawberry makes an average of N40, 000 weekly from the 10 cartons he harvests but despite the challenges, he’s not willing to leave that business anytime soon.
For him, besides the market issue, the cost of inputs like fertiliser, herbicides and seedlings are still very high and take a huge chunk of the profit.
Despite the low prices, many of the farmers like Samuel Badung who spoke with Daily Trust said they have to sell, most times to the buyers (middlemen) on credit, and it takes them many days to pay. “Sometimes you can’t get it because they will be telling you stories,” he said.
The village head of Chaha, Mr Joseph Dalyop, also a strawberry farmer and civil servant, is concerned that middlemen are deciding the prices of their products and they are helpless.
The middlemen threaten not to buy when prices rise and the farmers don’t know who else they can turn to, he said.
Farm prices vs mall prices
Attempts by Chaha Strawberry Farmers Association to find a suitable market in Abuja have not yielded any good result because most of the middlemen control the market there, some of the farmers claim.
At the farm gate, one kg costs N800 down from N1,000. Meanwhile, 12 to 15 balls in a ‘take-a-way’ plastic container in a shopping mall in Abuja sells for up to N1,000, translating to about 200% profit per kg, in which the farmer has no share.
When will FG, Plateau govts, private players act?
One of the major advantages of strawberry is that it is viewed by many youths as an exotic fruit and many are willing to come into its farming but the state government and even the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development as well as key players in the industry have no intervention programme in the production process.
An agric expert, Mr Tony Adamu, said strawberry is a crop that could make Nigeria stand out and take a share of the market even within the African sub-region.
According to him, the weather in the state and other areas like Gembu in Taraba State are suitable for that type of crop and expressed worry that the federal government was more concerned about rice and a few other crops while another potential revenue earner is ignored on the plateau.