BY DAVID MUCHUI
Rows and rows of over 5,000 grape plants line up an expansive piece of land at Liliaba in Igembe Central with vines well supported by wires tied across the pilot farm established over 20 years ago.
To most people, vineyards are only synonymous with bible stories but the Liliaba Vineyard has been in Meru for two decades after grapes were introduced by Father Adol Celestino from Italy in the 1980s.
Located about 20 kilometers from Kangeta town, the Liliaba Vineyard is now run by Father Andrew Mbiko of the Catholic Diocese of Meru where over 80 farmers have now adopted grape farming.
According to Father Mbiko, Grape farming has also been introduced at Murera near Meru National park, Rwarera in Buuri and Ngarendare.
“We already have a wine press and processing plant at Mukululu in Igembe Central. We produce over 1,000 bottles of table wine, church wine among other brands. The demand for the wine is higher than supply hence we are encouraging more farmers to start grape farming,” Fr Mbiko says.
He says that he buys grapes from out growers at Sh80 per kilo on self delivery and Sh70 gate price while those who sell fresh fruits to supermarkets and streets can make up to Sh300 a kilo.
Fr Mbiko notes that grapes require very little water and are often referred as ‘camel fruit’ hence can be grown in harsh climate.
“We train farmers on how to grow grapes, give cuttings for free and buy fruits for processing. Many farmers are losing crops to drought but if they venture into grape farming, they are assured of harvest,” he explains.
Grapes take four years to mature and are harvested twice a year and with one grape plant capable producing over 15kgs of grapes which translates to Sh1, 200 per plant.
Fr Adol notes that farmers who have embraced the crop have benefited greatly from the farming as Liliaba is mostly prone to rain failure.
The main challenge in grape farming, Fr Mbiko says is keeping off birds hence a watch tower has to be built in the middle of the farm for a good view of the farm
“Birds like feeding the grape fruits when they are ripe. The farmer has to keep watch throughout the day to secure a good harvest.
However, the returns are too good to be barred by the challenges. We cannot meet the demand for wine in Meru only,” he advises.
He notes that other seasonal crops can be planted in between the grapes making the land more productive.
About four varieties of grapes are grown at Liliaba vineyard and the fruit has been attracting interest from many people including former Provincial Commissioner Peter Kiilu who has a vineyard in Kitui.
Fr Mbiko is calling on more farmers to venture into grape farming so as to increase production of Mukululu wine production plant.