By Prudence Minayo
When Ken Kinuthia lost his job, he had no choice but to join his wife in the farming business. Prior to this, he had never taken his wife’s farm business seriously and thought it as nothing but a pastime. Years later, they have gone to build a strawberry empire that provides employment for tens of people. According to the couple, they harvest over 3,000 punnets.
Here is the couple entrepreneurial journey as told by WoK.
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Working as a lumberjack, Kenneth Kinuthia traveled to various parts of the country, with a diesel powered saw, looking for trees to cut down and make timber. He had learnt to do this business as a teenager.
As he went to different regions, his wife Betty stayed at their Oljororok home in Nyandarua. In order to provide for the family, she practiced carrots and cabbage farming. Kinuthia did not understand his wife’s dedication with planting the crops. He only understood logging and farming was something he had never taken seriously.
Losing his job
In the early 2000s, the government cracked down on logging and a lot of constraints were put in place. Business became hard and he lost his equipment forcing him to move back home, feeling beat down and out of the only job he knew.
At the time, his wife’s farming venture had grown into a reputable business, attracting a clientele from far and wide. On the other hand, Kinuthia did not have great expectations for the farming business thinking it was a passing fancy. Beth, however, knew the benefits of farming having been raised in a family that practices it.
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The former lumberjack was jobless for months without any promising prospects. His wife gave him an ultimatum and he needed to work soon.
“I was used to making a lot of money from the sale of timber. But the business collapsed after the ban on tree harvesting in Kenya. I moved with my wife to Tanzania where we made good business selling timber, but things went wrong; the business collapsed. We had to beg for fare back to Kenya,” Kinuthia told DN Seeds of Gold.
She even took all the cash from her farming business and handed it to her husband, asking him to start a business of his choice.
“I declined to take the money and avoided my wife for a whole week, arriving home late and very drunk, but she never gave up. She pressured me every morning,” Kinuthia told DN.
This was a wake up call and days later he decided to join his wife in the farming business.
KenBet and Strawberry Farming
This was the beginning of KenBet Investments and they opened a bank account. With this done, he set out to clear the remaining four and a half acres of their land and burned charcoal to boost their income.
The cabbage business took off and clients were ordering in large numbers. Then, they faced a tough time when the vegetables began flooding the market and prices became less competitive.
This gave them the idea to change their products. They approached a farmer in Limuru who practiced strawberry farming and he agreed to train them. The couple offered a quarter acre of their land to be used for exhibition and invited about 200 farmers for the training. None of them showed up but this did not demoralize them.
They decided to plant the chandler strawberry variety which is sweeter, produces bigger fruits, and stays for a longer time when chilled compared to others.
After a good harvest, they found themselves without a market. Not wanting their produce to go to waste, they decided to hawk their product at the shopping center and from door to door. They moved from hawking the berries in their home area, going as far as Nakuru, Nyahururu, Naivasha and Nairobi. They carried the strawberries and paper bags in their backpacks.
With time, they approached retail giants, like Naivas and the now defunct Tuskys, and started supplying to them up to 1500 kg per week.
The Kinuthias then began receiving orders from different places and even got orders to export the berries. They then expanded their berry farming to include: gooseberries and raspberries.
They proceeded to propagate the chandler runners and increased the plants to about 20,000. The farmers also learnt how to process and make jam and juice from their berries.
They told The Standard that they use organic methods to control pests and diseases. Strawberries are susceptible to diseases like brostitis, and pests, like, worms, birds and slugs.
Beth said that it is their faith that enabled them withstand difficult times and Kinuthia said their passion and commitment has always enabled them learn new practices and technology. He said that he woke up at 3am everyday to look for new farming technologies.