Farming Cherry Tomato, a unique high value crop with good returns

There is this sensational and unique crop that has not been exploited by many farmers though it has been in the farming circles for a while. Cherry tomatoes is the name of the crop. Leah Ladona the CEO Agroponic Enterprise is one of the farmers who is carrying out cherry farming at their farm located along Kenyatta road in Kiambu County. Together with her business partner Caleb Ochieng, they have combined their vast knowledge, skills and resources to put up an agricultural farming sphere; all under hydroponics farming in greenhouses. They are specializing in growing Lucy plus cherry tomatoes variety and colored capsicums for the Kenyan market while also offering agronomical support across the agricultural farming value chain.

Her journey to horticultural farming is a fascinating story of a young girl pursuing Bio-Medical Engineering undergraduate studies at Kenyatta University while touring one of the flower growing farms in Naivasha fell in love with the ambiance within greenhouses. This is because flowers were well managed, beautiful colors, smells and warm aura which was a sight to behold and this ignited a farming idea. “In between my degree program I enrolled for a certificate and later on a Diploma course in agri-business management and hydroponics farming at Miramar international college. The essence of the course was to enlighten me more because I was relatively new especially in regards to hydroponic farming. After the course I constructed a greenhouse back home from the small savings I had made. Luckily, Equity bank chanced upon me while they were carrying out the Young African Works Kenya program. They trained and paired us into groups of 2 people, encouraged us to register as startup companies, funded us, which led us to leasing three acres of land along Kenyatta road where we constructed one greenhouse under hydroponics. The one green house we constructed has now metamorphosed into 12 greenhouses all under cherry tomato farming,” Leah explained.

Young Africa Works Kenya; is a partnership between Equity Group Foundation and MasterCard Foundation, with support from the Government of Kenya which seeks to deepen social impact in the community by laying the foundation for gainful employment through training and funding for over 600,000 entrepreneurs. The program intends to run up to 2030.

“The MasterCard Foundation’s new strategy, Young Africa Works, outlines how, over the next decade, we will focus on finding solutions to the youth employment challenge and reducing poverty in Africa. When young people can secure formal work and a steady wage their lives improve. Employment, particularly formal employment, is a leading pathway out of poverty for families. Using youth employment as a measure of our progress, we will work to help millions of young people find a pathway out of poverty. Our work will ensure 30 million young people in Africa, particularly young women, secure dignified and fulfilling work,” states MasterCard report.

Cherry tomato is a small round tomato believed to be an intermediate genetic admixture between wild currant-type tomatoes and domesticated garden tomatoes. Cherry tomatoes range in size from thumb tips up to the size of a golf ball, and can range from spherical to slightly oblong in shape.

Initially, the company was involved in the normal tomato farming, but the business became unfeasible due to the unpredictability of the market and other factors beyond their control. This led to looking for a high value crops that was more sustainable and had more return on investments.

“We chanced upon cherry tomatoes when an Israel company came to our farm and were interested in doing a pilot project on ornamental cherries. They gave us seeds for trials and we carried out market survey and discovered not many locals consume cherry tomatoes but they are in the market.

They are highly valued. The normal households don’t budget for cheery tomatoes and they are majorly used as: salads or lettuce cups, sandwiches and wraps, grilled skewers and kebabs, pasta salads, fresh pico de gallo, tacos(for topping), caprese salads, yogurt (for topping) among others. The returns from them are more and sustainable,” she said.

It is a fascinating venture especially when on a contract basis or in bulk. Most buyers involved are committed in picking up the produce in good time and paying the farmers as well. Because their target market; the clients will never forgo a day without a salad

The nitty-gritty of good quality cherry tomatoes is dependent on various factors which includes; following good agricultural practices, being hands on crop management especially dealing with pests and disease and being more cultural while applying preventives. Secondly, the duo are agronomists having researched and undergone trainings on pests’ management and also studying the life stages of every crop they are planting. For instances she avers that after two to three weeks of planting there will be build up of white fliers which they apply organic pesticides for their control. “One of the methods we have deployed in controlling pests is crashing pepper, ginger and neem and mixing them with water. This mixture has a pungent smell and it also scorches. If by any chance there are pests in the greenhouses, immediately it lands on the pores of the pests they are scorched and die,” she said.

Her parting shot ; farming is fancy and urban farming has made things look good for us. Get the correct information on how to do it, if you can’t get it by yourself look for someone who knows and learn from them or let them do it for you in your presence. I do farming as full time job and the rewards from it are encouraging. The future plans for the farm is to do more and more expansion. The farms we are currently occupying are leased lands but in the coming years we are looking at having a farm like this in our own land,” she concluded.

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