Serem centre, in Vihiga County, is a busy market where farmers congregate every week to sell their produce that include fruits, vegetables and livestock.
It is a perfect place to do business. It is here that a group of youth are honing their value addition skills by making different products from tomatoes, pineapples, mangoes and pawpaws.
The Hamisi Horticulture Youth Village Bunge make jam and juice from the fruits.
I find group leader Reuben Lukhazwa, with other group members, boiling ripe tomatoes in a sufuria to make jam.
After boiling, they dip the tomatoes in cold water to make it easy to peel out the skin. “To make the jam, besides tomatoes, you need honey, fresh lemon, preservatives and a fruit pulping machine that blends the boiled tomatoes and sieves to remove the seeds,” he says.
The tomato puree is again boiled to remove the water. The result is a thick paste.
“You then add honey to the tomato paste and it will change the colour to red. Thereafter, you add sodium benzoate in the mixture as you stir. The final step is to add lemon juice,” says Lukhazwa.
They then leave the tomato jam to cool after which it is packed in 250g, 500g and 1kg plastic jars that go for Sh100, Sh180 and Sh300 respectively.
The group sells the jam to customers in Vihiga and Kakamega counties. “The reception of the tomato jam is good. At the Pre-Global Entrepreneurship Summit in Nairobi which we attended in July, we sold jam worth Sh30,000,” says Lukhazwa.
He says the summit gave them a huge exposure. They further learned there how to market their produce.
He adds: “Now we are approaching supermarkets. Our product has been tested by the Kenya Bureau of Standards and in two weeks’ time, we will have the bureau’s stamp,” says Lukhazwa.
The group meets twice a month to make the tomato jam. With three crates of tomatoes, 10kg of honey, 100 lemon fruits and sodium benzoate, they make 300 250g, 500g and 1kg tins of tomato jam. “The total cost of the raw materials used in making the 300 tins is Sh8,000. By the time we sell all the jam, we make Sh18,000, Sh10,000 being our profit.”
The outfit comprises 87 groups working on different agribusinesses, but mainly tomato farming. It was started in 2012 after training by the United States International Aid Agency.
The group has five 30m by 8m greenhouses in Hamisi sub-county in which they grow the tomatoes.
“We have two greenhouses in Hamisi, one in Serem, another in Banja and the last in Shiru. We prefer the Red Creole tomato variety because it provides quality tomato jam,” says the chair.
Bacterial wilt is one of their top challenges.
Robert Musyoki, the chief research officer at Simlaw Seeds Company, says bacterial wilt can be controlled by solarisation (burning of soil) or using chemicals available in agrovets.
He says farmers should also guard against flower abortion, which happens when tomato flowers are exposed to high temperatures in the greenhouse. He says greenhouse should be opened when it gets hot to cool it.
Group treasurer Getrine Khasimu says members earn 10 per cent commission for every sale of the tomato jam.
“Last year, we had sales of over Sh200,000 of tomato jam. We invested some of it after sharing the rest,” she said.