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Surplus strawberry in Plateau, few buyers

Strawberry, an exotic fruit,  which until now does not receive any serious attention as one of the fruits grown in the country, is now the…

Strawberry, an exotic fruit,  which until now does not receive any serious attention as one of the fruits grown in the country, is now the most important produce that shapes the economic power of the people of Chaha community.
The community, located at the outskirt of Vom, Plateau State, gives the heart-shaped fruit the desired attention from the day they discovered it has the potentials to change their fortune and lift them from the shackles of poverty.
This reporter, prompted by the sale of the produce to motorists along Jos-Abuja Road in Jos, traced its origin to Chaha village where everybody seems to have a strawberry farm- although there are few other strawberry farmers in Jos, Plateau State capital.
A farmer does not need to buy the seed or seedlings every farming year. This is because the vines after production can be transferred as seedlings to another plot in the new farming season. This quality leaves farmers with no burden of looking for seed each planting season. Their major burden is manure, fertiliser and market.
Nuhu Samuel is a 29-year-old strawberry farmer. He told the reporter that he got into the farming after he saw his father making money from it. Although he said he cannot tell where his father got the seed from, he got the seedlings from him.
The father of two children stated that he plants in July and harvests in November. He sells in killogramme-N700 to N1, 000 per kilogramme.
Samuel gets 30 to 40 killogrammes from his farm twice a week, which helps him to pocket between N28, 000 to N40, 000. For him water supply to the farm is not much of a problem because some of the mining pods serve as mini irrigation dams that supply water to his farms.
The reporter seeks to know where he sells his produce or if he has challenges selling it, and he said: “We have one man who comes from Abuja to buy the produce from us. We normally take it to him in Vom. Apart from him, some women who sell the produce along the major roads in and around Jos come here to buy.”
On how much he makes from it in a season, he said: “It depends, there are seasons that we make between N300, 000 to N400, 000 while in some seasons, I make up to N1 million from my two plots alone.”
Isaac Michael is a 22-year-old strawberry farmer in the community. He was working in his farm when the reporter met him. He said that he was inspired to farm by Thomas Choji, who he said started the strawberry farming in the community.
Unlike Samuel who has been farming it for the past five years, Michael is a new comer into strawberry farming after seeing other young farmers of his age making money from it.
“I could not start earlier because I did not save enough money to buy the seedlings because it is too expensive. But July last year, I managed to save money from my cabbage and carrot farm to buy the strawberry seedlings which I planted in this farm.”
According to him, each seedling costs N200. He said he has no problem with water supply as his farm is located at the bank of a lake constructed by miners.
Michael is now harvesting four cartons worth of strawberry every week. Each of those cartons contains five killogrammes of the produce. But how much does he sell a killogramme?
“It depends on the forces that shape the market such as glut and scarcity. Between October and December, it is usually very expensive. So we sell for between N900 and N1, 000 a kilo. But now, the product is plenty as you can see. During the heat period-because it is heat that facilitates its growth, we sell for between N700 and N800 per kilogramme.”
 “Before the season ends in April, I will make N400, 000, I could even make more if I get a better market,” the 22-year-old man said.
“But honestly, it is not easy for us to sell it here. If you harvest it and keep it, before tomorrow it will change its colour. You must get the person who wants to buy before you harvest it, if not you can’t harvest it and keep it. Unless you have a cooling system like the refrigerator before you can do that. This is a big challenge for us here.”
For Patrick Mancha, a 45 year-old-father of five, the idea of starting a strawberry farm came to him when, as a worker on other peoples’ farms, he saw how the farmers were making money from it.
With the money he realised from working for others, he established his own farm, which gives him money to feed his family and send his children to some of the expensive schools in Jos.
Mancha said he sells strawberry in cartons, which weigh 5.5 killogrammes at the price of N3, 600. The day the reporter visited the farm, he harvested 70 killogrammes from only one of the three strawberry farms, which he does twice a week.
Conducting the reporter round his farms, Patrick stressed that he will harvest 150 killogrammes if it reaches March which will give him approximately N105, 000 weekly if he sells at the least price of N700 per killogramme.
“Last year I realised N300, 000 from the small farmland I cultivated. This year, I have decided to expand the land to three plots. As you can see, the 70kg I harvested did not include the other farms. If I add those ones I may get 120kg and that will be twice a week.”
Choji Emmanuel is one of the biggest strawberry farmers in Chaha. In a chat with the reporter, he stressed that the major challenge of strawberry farmers in the community is lack of market for the produce in Jos.
He told the reporter that he has attended many workshops organised for strawberry farmers on the Plateau but nothing happened afterwards.
The 29-year-old lamented that the community produces strawberry enough to meet any buyer’s demand, yet they rely on few individuals and retailers to buy from them.
“We know how to farm strawberry here, but the market is our problem. We want people and companies to know that we have enough of this fruit here. What we need now is just the market.”
Emmanuel has been in strawberry production for over six years. He recalled one particular year when he couldn’t find buyers for the product, making them to record huge losses.
“We know there are people who need this product somewhere in Nigeria but we don’t know how to locate them. I hope one day, some of these people will find us here.”
According to him, even though they have Strawberry Farmers Association in the community, the leaders are not educated to help members locate where the markets for their produce lie in the country.
This reporter made effort to speak to the leaders of the association but failed because they were all out of the village trying to find buyers.
Speaking to many farmers in Chaha community it was discovered that they have the same challenge-market for their produce. They want to know where to meet buyers.
Even the government at the state and local levels do not seem to work for the interest of their famers who can make the state a hub for horticulture in Africa.  Despite huge potentials created by its unique weather, the Plateau State and its local governments have failed its farmers. Even the federal government failed to see the billions of Naira lying untapped on the Plateau.
For the community, access to good road, link to bulk buyers and basic inputs such as water pumping machines and fertiliser continue to elude them.
Efforts to get the local government authorities and the state commissioner of agriculture to comment on these matters also failed.

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