Lucrative tomato farming, what it entails

Lucrative tomato farming, what it entails

The picturesque is complemented by patches of blossoming sugarcane plantation as we step at Eshibuli village, Kakamega County. We are at the farm of Grace Mbaye who has invested adequate resources in tomato cultivation and is reaping fortunes in a locality that is famous for sugarcane cultivation. The County is agriculturally endowed with breathtaking scenes of maize fields on the upper side bordering Uasin Gishu and sugarcane plantations as one drives along the Kakamega-Mumias road.

When she talks about income versus cost from tomato farming, you are easily carried away as she explains how you can make over a million shillings in profit from an acre of tomato in four month’s time. She has a motto: ‘Lucrative tomato farming entails precise planning and timing in addition to months of hard labour for one to have quality fruits at time of high demand.’

On her two and half acre piece of land, she has drilled a borehole which supplies clean water for irrigating her crops. She has adopted both green house and open field cultivation. In greenhouses she has over a 1,000 crops.

For tomatoes, watering is key to success, she says. “It’s just not watering aimlessly; you have to do it strategically. Too much water and the plants drown, too little and it lead to blossom end rot. At the same time, inconsistent watering will also pilot you blossom end rot,” the farmer points out. For her, she is solely on drip irrigation.

“As a young person I didn’t like agriculture and just tried farming so that the land would not lie idle. But gradually I developed interest in it after making tidy sums from small-scale growing of tomatoes,” she recounts. This would later awaken her mind to the huge potential that lay in farming and she decided to fully dive into it. ‘’When I glance back to those days, I am happy that I ventured into serious farming. During peak times, from just a single sale of tomatoes I make money equivalent or more than my monthly salary,“ she says. Grace reveals that she has educated her children up to university level with proceeds from tomato farming.

She has employed 2 casual workers who assist her with greenhouse management which must be followed to the latter. This involves de-suckering to remove excess plants that reduce yields, weeding, top dressing with organic manure. Propping up is also done to support the plants and to prevent capsicums and tomatoes coming into contact with soil as they are easily affected by soil borne pests and diseases if any.

In adherence to Minimum Residue Levels (MLS) in produce, the farm has adopted Integrated Pest Methods (IPM) such as use of Tutracks to control pests and diseases hence reduction  in use of chemicals.

“At the entrance of the greenhouse we have constructed a disinfectants foot bath where one needs to dip shoes before entering. We are very strict in greenhouse sanitation. Furthermore, we have restricted movement of people.

The biggest challenge was security but we managed to fence the plot to keep off intruders as well as employed a security guard to boost the security at night,” Mbaye said.

Marketing is not a challenge since demand for tomatoes is always high throughout the year. If she has tomatoes when price is at high peak, she earns between KeS 5,000 to KeS 6, 000 per crate which translates to about KeS1.5 million from an acre. “The production cost of a well-tended acre of tomato is about KeS150, 000. But there are times when prices fluctuate to lows as KeS1,000 per crate, in this case a farmer struggles even to meet the cost of production. I try to maximize my profit by having tomatoes for the market throughout the year” Grace said.

Grace sees no need to timing the crop by planting before the rains drops hoping to get good prices before tomatoes for farmers who depend on rain matures. She argues that every other farmer is timing and glut tomatoes hit the market at the same time fetching low prices. Seasons of high prices are more frequent than those of low prices, she advised.

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