Farming Strawberries as a cash crop: Mvurwi farmer Usore bridges the local supply chain gap

Farming Strawberries as a cash crop: Mvurwi farmer Usore bridges the local supply chain gap

By Caroline Chiimba

Strawberry farming has gained footing in Zimbabwe with more farmers warming up to the fruit than sticking to the conventional crops like maize, tobacco, wheat and other general crops. Most farmers are taking interest in the fruit given its biggest commercial value in the international market, driven by its high demand in European markets.

Zimbabwean exportation of berries, in general, has been steadily increasing. However, strawberries are largely imported into the country because they are scarcely available locally as most farmers are cultivating for the export market. This therefore makes the heart-shaped juicy fruit a luxury for many locally as it becomes expensive and out of range for many.

“I always noticed each time I visited Zimbabwe that prices of fruits were on the high side. I had no problems buying but fruits grown in Zimbabwe must not be a privilege to buy. So, I thought I could be part of the solution by growing locally produced fruits that could also be enjoyed by the local market at affordable pricing,” Simbarashe Jonathan Usore, a farmer who is currently based in the United Sates told the AFB Vision magazine.

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“I currently reside in Atlanta, Ga where I work for one of the world’s leading consulting firms as a Business Integration & Tech Arch Manager. Prior to that I was in banking where I worked in various senior roles in Atlanta. I am now in the world of Digital Conversion, Data Analytics, Predictive Data analytics and Artificial Intelligence. My evening job is being a strawberry farmer but now it’s become my second day job which I have fallen in love with.”

Usore added that his inspiration to venture into farming and food sector came from his love for eating fruits and Strive Maisyiwa’s words.

“I paid attention to Strive Masiyiwa when he mentioned that the next generation of millionaires are going to be food producers. When a billionaire like him speaks, it always pays to pay attention and research further on why he said so,” Usore said.

“As part of my research, I discovered that a good number of Venture Capital firms in Europe were creating funds to buy land in some African countries, Kenya being one of the target countries. The goal of the funds is to farm and have food security for European countries. To me, such a transaction still doesn’t make sense when we can actually produce the food that can be exported to those markets while keeping our own well fed.

“I always dreamed of retiring at a fruit farm. I was in the process of looking for land to buy when my wife convinced me to start working the land on my late parents’ plot. I did some research firstly into fruits I love, and strawberries happen to be my number one favorite fruit.”

The father of five also used to join Clubhouse and listening in to young farmers in the country coming up with innovative agricultural ideas.

“Those youngsters were a joy to listen to. They represent a new revolution in farming. I wanted to be a part of that revolution. This inspired and motivated me into using the land to farm strawberries,” he pointed out. 

Usore is currently utilising that very land in Mvurwi that his late mother used to grow different crops on. He reminiscences how his late mother used to love and take pride in farming and is really amazed at the progress he had made considering that he always told his mother that farming was not his thing.

“I usually joke with friends that if she was to be resurrected to see what I have done with her land, she would die a second death from shock. She would never have expected this from me. So, I must credit my mother for this. Her family too were all farmers in their own right. They enjoyed working the land,” Usore added.

“Strawberries represent immense opportunities starting with supplying the berries to the local market to value addition. Think about Yogurt having strawberry flavour, or strawberry syrup extracted from the strawberries themselves, or strawberry scent. There is just so much one can do with a berry besides eating it.

“What my research has shown me thus far is that major Zimbabwean strawberry producers are exporting the berries, leaving Zimbabweans to import them from South Africa. So supplying the local market is indeed a huge opportunity that exists in addition to the value addition.”

Research has shown that there are over 40 different varieties of strawberries that can be grown here in Zimbabwe in a wide range of temperatures. Warm conditions are needed for strawberries to grow well. They would need as many as ten hours daily of exposure to sunlight. Strawberries can thrive from as low as 10 degrees Celsius to 30 degrees Celsius.

“One has to be very patient with strawberries. They take at least 8 – 12 months before you can have sufficient produce to sell. There is going to be a 4–5-month period, leading up to the 12 months where you will have to write off the ripe berries you take out of the field as they won’t be sufficient enough to supply the market,” Usore explained.

“I remember our first pickings in month 6 were like 30 berries in a week. In month 11 we started seeing 30kgs worth of berries being picked from the field. So they continue to grow weekly while we also continue expanding the field with new plants that should be ready with new strawberries in 9 -12 months from planting.

“There are the pests that come with the strawberries. In my case I am not using any chemicals at all. Everything is naturally grown with no chemicals added or used. So sweet strawberries are being produced and ants have somehow started taking a liking to my strawberries. Fighting off the pests without chemicals has been my biggest challenge as I am focused on natural Strawberries that are chemical free.

“There is a sense of fulfilment and accomplishment each time I walk into the strawberry field. It’s just beautiful to see what was once a dream turn into reality with strong support from the market. The greatest accomplishment for me though will be to ensure that everyone who wants to eat strawberry does so. If that ambition is fulfilled then we can talk of my life having been improved.”

Currently Usore is supplying the Zimbabwean market, distributing from field to the consumer, from retailers to healthy fruit juice bars. He added that his desire is to cut down on middle man as it is important for consumers to know who the farmer is, pointing out that his long-term goal is expand to the export market while still supplying adequately on local market.

“We have been receiving enquiries from different sectors in Zimbabwe. We will look to international markets next year as I would like to maintain a good balance between local supplies and international supplies,” he said.

“I am looking at starting as early as next year venturing into export market while continuing to service the Zimbabwean market. My desire is to go nationwide and am glad I am in talks with a Victoria Falls organization regarding supplying them with strawberries.”

Through his farm, Usore has managed to employ five people and is looking forward to employ more locals and have local schools benefit from the farm by visiting and learning on the ground as part of their agriculture curriculum.

Opening up on financing and challenges, Usore said he as exclusively financed his project from his pocket and took advantage of his work in the diaspora to spare funds to finance operations at the farm.

“From sales, we are reinvesting back into business expansion. Getting financing locally for start-up farming operations is certainly not the easiest of things. I do hope going forward that can be looked into to by the responsible authorities,” Usore said.

“In terms of market linkages, I actually did a bit of cold calling and took advantage of some networks I had created. The beauty of it all has been the quality of the strawberry that speaks on its own and has impressed every prospective buyer. Seeing eyes light up after tasting the strawberries is the biggest highlight for me. There is no taste like the one I produce which is sweet and has no sour aftertaste.

“The biggest highlight is the disruption my product has brought to the market. Another highlight for me has been in branding the berries as I want them to stand out in the market. I brought in unique packaging which makes them stand out. In the market you deal with the big consumers so I need to have a big organization mentality. This is where financing would help as I can speed up some of the milestones I am yet to hit.”

Other than the monetary value and the delicious aspect of strawberries, they offer great health benefits. Research has shown that Strawberries are very rich in antioxidants and plant compounds, which may have benefits for heart health and blood sugar control. They are an excellent source of vitamin C and manganese and also contain decent amounts of folate (vitamin B9) and potassium. Usually consumed raw and fresh, these berries can also be used in a variety of jams, jellies, and desserts.

Strawberries are low in calories and the health benefits include reduced cholesterol, blood pressure, inflammation, and oxidative stress. Furthermore, these berries may help prevent big spikes in both blood sugar and insulin levels.

Giving advice to aspiring farmers and business people, Usore said they should focus on producing a quality product without taking any short cuts, adding that customer service is very key.

“It’s not just about the strawberry but also how you interact with your clients. For example, I have instituted a money back guarantee if you are not satisfied with the berry. That’s how much confidence I have in the product,” he said.

“Don’t be in a rush to make a quick buck. Penetrating the market to get the loyalty is critical. A loyal customer is worth more than a one-time big order customer. Patience is a virtue and a very expensive virtue if I may add. But it always pays off.

“Product differentiation is key. A herd mentality will not work in Zimbabwe if you are offering the same product as everyone else. So, thinking outside the box is a must.”

Usore highlighted that since he is currently based in the United States, moving back and forth trying to manage his project from the ground has been very challenging.

“It is indeed challenging as I want to continue expanding market reach and implementing other strategies I have in mind. Being in US though has helped me learn about the fruit market and looking at creative ways I can disrupt the current strawberry market,” he said “I must pay tribute to my staff on the ground. They have taken ownership and are proud of the work they have done.”


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