Sauna Makumi, a farmer at Kwa Kyai in Kibwezi, Makueni County, braves the scorching sun as she tends to her tomatoes on her farm.
Most farmers in the area don’t stay on the farm beyond 10am to avoid the sweltering heat. But heat or no heat, Makumi, knows she has to farm. In fact, without the scorching sun, she would not be in the tomato business.
“If it were not for the sun, I would not have been able to add value to my tomatoes,” she says as she fills a crate with tomatoes.
After harvesting, Makumi delivers the produce to Kwa Kyai Rural Sacco. The crop later finds its way to The Ketchup Product, a tomato sauce manufacturer in the Netherlands.
Makumi, a mother of three, is among 35 farmers in Kwa Kyai cultivating tomatoes for export.
They have landed a big market for their produce with a tomato sauce manufacturer based in the Netherlands: The Ketchup Product.
For several years, the farmers have been growing tomatoes and other horticultural crops using water from Kivungoni Dam.
However, it was not until they were contracted by the company in March that they started reaping the sweet fruits of their labour.
“Since I joined the project, I have enjoyed a steady price of Sh40 a kilo paid a week after I deliver the produce,” says Makumi pointing to a three bedroomed stone house that she says she build recently after selling tomatoes.
The farmer harvest up to 100kg every week at the peak of the season, delivering the whole of it to the company.
Chris Mutui, another farmer, said he recently earned Sh48,000 from his tomatoes spread on quarter acre.
The farmers plant the Kilele F1 variety. To grow the crop, Mutui explains that one prepares the land first by tilling it at least a month before the anticipated planting time.
“We, thereafter, buy the recommended hybrid seeds because they are resistant to diseases. The seeds are then planted in a nursery and transplanted after 21 days,” he says, adding one uses 10ml of DAP fertiliser on each crop.
In case of pests or diseases, application of chemicals happens only under the instructions of agronomists
Harvesting starts after about 60 days. Before they were allowed to grow for Ketchup Product, the farmers were taught Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) that included using certified seeds and harvesting their produce in clean containers.
COLD STORAGE FACILITIES
The farmers used to spray their produce with chemical pesticides arbitrarily, a practice they have now dropped.
Last month, the farmers acquired the coveted Global GAP certification enabling them to access any other export market.
The farmers harvest the produce and deliver it at their society, where it is sorted, washed, sliced and dried using a solar machine.
The dryer located at Kwa Kyai shopping centre has enabled farmers to address post-harvest losses, which was a major drawback and thus export the produce.
Later, the produce is transported to Thika where it is dried further in an electric dryer, packaged and exported to Netherlands.
According to Klass De Vries, the head of the Kibwezi tomato project at SNV, a Dutch organisation, 40 per cent of fruits and vegetables harvested in the country go to waste.
The problem is compounded by the fact that rural farmers cannot access cold storage facilities because of lack of steady electricity supply.
Hamisi Mutulu, the coordinator of the tomatoes project at Kwa Kyai Irrigation Scheme, where members grow their tomatoes, says they export a tonne of dried tomatoes each week.
“We buy the produce from farmers at Sh40 a kilo, but after adding value, we sell at Sh1,000,” he says.
Of the money, Sh240 per kilo goesd back to the farmer. while another is ploughed back into a revolving fund that members access at affordable rates.
Briac Barthes, Ketchup Product company’s country representative says the idea is to promote agribusiness with small scale farmers who are ready to work as a team.
Nicodemus Ngeka, a manager at the Agriculture and Foods Authority station in Kibwezi, says tomatoes are a high value crop, and they mature faster.
“Most farmers in Ukambani grow tomatoes between August and October because their farms are idle leading to poor prices in the market but such projects are good because they give farmers value for their efforts.”