The weather is chilly and roads impassable due to heavy rains as we venture into Eldama Ravine, Baringo County.
Most of the farms are filled with maize waiting to be harvested, with the rains pouring misery on residents, especially the maize farmers.
Soon, we arrive on Carol Taalam’s farm, which hosts four greenhouses, a young cabbage crop, spring onions, fruiting Hass avocado trees and some carrots.
Carol is inside one of the greenhouses checking on her tomato plants. “That is bacterial wilt,” she tells one of her employees who shows her a withering crop. “But at least it is not severe, we will spray chemicals to manage it,” she adds.
Carol is an ophthalmic clinical officer at the Nakuru Level Five Hospital, Annex branch, but has an eye for agribusiness.
“I have been farming since 2014 out of passion. I love watching plants grow, fruit, being harvested and served at the table. My favourite crop is tomato.”
Her love for tomatoes grew after seeing her friend in Nakuru grow and sell them in the town.
“I thought, why not do it? But the climate in Eldama Ravine is not very conducive because it is cold and humid, so I embraced greenhouses,” says Carol, who has four greenhouses, two of which are 30 by 10ft, one 20 by 10ft and the other 15 by 8ft.
It was easier for her to start because she already had two acres in Eldama Ravine. “Therefore, I did market research and sought market from a supermarket first,” says Carol, who put Sh500,000 into the business.
To grow her tomatoes, Carol starts by propagating seeds in a nursery and then transplants them into greenhouses after 21 days.
“I grow the Anna F1 variety and mainly with animal manure,” says the farmer, who has received training from agro-firms such as Amiran.
Around her tomato greenhouses she plants spring onions.
“The crop’s strong aroma helps repel pests such as white flies and aphids, which are a threat to tomatoes and other crops,” says Carol.
She is currently harvesting from 1,000 plants, and has a similar number of younger plants.
“From a 30-by-10ft greenhouse, I harvest 300kg of tomatoes each week, and supply a kilo for between Sh60 and Sh90 depending on demand. I harvest from one crop for about 12-16 weeks, with the peak harvest being at between four and eight weeks.”
She sells the tomatoes to three supermarkets in Nakuru. “The market is a bit formal and therefore reliable. To be cleared as a farm produce supplier, one has to submit their Kenya Revenue Authority PIN, have a trading licence, company name and bank details.
From supplying just tomatoes, Carol, 45, has since diversified into cauliflower, broccoli, cabbages, black nightshade and carrots, all of which earn her more cash as she grows them at different times.
A kilo of broccoli, for example, goes for between Sh100 and Sh120 and she harvests 600-1,000 kilos at a go, depending on the size of greenhouse.
She harvests about 2,500 heads of cabbage from half-an-acre, and supplies to a local school at between Sh40 and Sh50 each.
Carol plans to venture into growing herbs such as mint and thyme, noting that she has already done research and learnt that the venture is less intensive and the crops have a good market.
With hospital work to do, a private clinic to run and a farm to manage, Carol is a busy woman.
“In life you have to create time for everything. I balance between my work, private clinic and farming. I spend most weekends on the farm, and I have employed two workers permanently who run it in my absence,” she says.
Her husband, Alfred Rotich, is one of the pillars behind her thriving agribusiness as he regularly checks on the business on weekdays.
“My advice to young people, especially women, is that they should start farming by doing short-term crops after studying the market to minimise losses,” she says, isolating pest and disease infestation especially Tuta absoluta and bacterial wilt, lack of quality labour and training as some of her challenges.
Lillian Jeptanui, a horticulture expert from Egerton University, says new farmers should do a market survey before growing any crop.
“One should also do soil tests to ensure they use the right fertiliser if need be, and employ professional agronomists for good guidance. They should also familiarise themselves with the possible challenges along their agribusiness and seek professional help,” she says.
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Tomato yields explained
Tomatoes need 200-500g/ha seed rate depending on spacing.
On cost, it depends on the type of hybrid you go for, with 2,000 seeds going for an average of Sh2,000.
The best way is to start from the nursery by raising seedlings (transplants). This this will take 28 days to have quality seedlings for the field.
If you sell tomatoes at Sh80 per kilo, then possibly your gross margin will be Sh1.09 million.
Production expense of Sh125,000 will give a net of Sh963,000.