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Berries underutilised fruits despite them being healthiest foods

Kenya Agricultural Livestock Research Organisation (KALRO) Director of crop research systems Dr Lusike Wasilwa has said berries are among the healthiest foods one can eat, as they are delicious, nutritious, and can provide health benefits to the body, therefore called for inclusion in daily diets.

Speaking in a farmer’s field day organised by the KALRO at the Kabete research institute, Dr Lusike noted that the various berries, like common strawberries, raspberries and even Guavas have higher vitamins content, minerals and are antioxidants.

She however explained that in past years berries were seen as wild fruits and not utilised more but just eaten as a by the way without cognizance of their importance.

“Many people especially the aged do not know or recognize the names of gooseberry, goldenberry blueberries and even yellow berry, but if they see them, they will recollect eating them and identifying them by mother tongue, “ she said

She mentioned goose berries as Nyatongolo in Luo, Chinsobosobo in Kisii, Chimbunwe in Luhya, Surubali -Taita, Nathii in Kikuyu and Meru, Buni in Maasai and Telolo in  Kalenjin.

Dr Lusike explained that the gooseberries specifically have been forgotten and thus the reason the government has now classified them among those fruits that have been underutilised in the country.

“These berries be it red, blue and even yellow are very rich in vitamins called anthocyanins which have got anti-cancer properties. The yellow ones are also very good in immune properties with the gooseberry being good for people suffering from arthritis,” she told KNA.

She said that one does not have to eat the berries fresh only, but can be added value and diversify the product by making juice, wine, sauces, and even mix them to make pastries like Jam.

“Gooseberry can be used in flavouring baked products while its juice may be used to blend certain food. It also comes with numerous benefits such as improving appetite, preventing heart diseases, helping in digestion and controlling sugar levels in the body,” the Director noted.

When growing them, Dr Lusike said the biggest advantage is that they can fit in small spaces like a fence, in a garden, a pot like a flower and at the end, one will get a fruit.

Initially, the Director noted that the first gooseberries that came into the market were selling at Sh400 for 18 fruits only and they were from the Netherlands making them unaffordable for many ordinary citizens.

“The prices have now stabilised and have gone down to Sh250 to Sh200 and will even go lower up to Sh180.  Sometimes the locally grown gooseberries are even more expensive than the ones being imported because not many people plant them,” says Dr Lusike

To ensure there is good uptake of the gooseberry farming in the country, Dr Lusike said that KALRO will soon be registering some varieties and have a lot of seeds available.

Through this, she added there will be an increase in the production hence lowering the price to about Sh 50 to Sh100 per pallet

The gooseberries begin producing fruits three to four months after transplanting and continue bearing fruit for up to two years if well maintained therefore big returns.

Wilson Njuguna, a farmer who runs nursery for herbs and various types of berries said he grows over five varieties of berries as they are easy to manage and grow with minimal care and few pests.

“The berries grow quickly with strawberries taking two to three months and raspberries about five months to harvest,” he added while showcasing some of the berry’s seeds he sells to consumers.

Njuguna explained that in his nursery, based at the Nairobi International Trade Fair, he grows some varieties that are not so common such as gorge berry that is so different from other berries as it grows into a vine like passion fruit.

As for the Blueberry, he explained that it has started becoming popular although the biggest challenge for the farmer would be it has to be grown in acidic soils, maintaining a ph. level of between 4 to 4.8 as well as also check the alkalinity and acidity of water.

‘To anyone planning to get into berry farming I would advise them to first conduct research on the best berry that will suit their farm. They also need to learn about management and also markets,” Njuguna said

Currently he said the blue berries are selling for Sh600 per 250grammes pallet, while Raspberries and strawberries sell at Sh300 per 250grams pallet.

The gooseberry, goldenberry, or yellow berry have been classified as one of the 100 crops selected for commercialisation in Kenya’s The Big 4 Agenda. Specifically, KALRO classified gooseberries that were ranked by stakeholders as the 7th most important underutilised fruit.

Last year some of the Giant companies such as Kakuzi have expanded and launched plans for export by undertaking commercial engagements with global market leaders in fresh strawberries, black berries, blueberries, and raspberries.

By Wangari Ndirangu


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