Ru­ral group that is sell­ing tomatoes to the world

Daily Nation (Kenya) - - SEEDS OF GOLD - BY PIUS MAUNDU sat­na­tion@ke.na­tion­media.com

Sauna Makumi, a tomato farmer, at their so­lar dryer in Kwa Kyai shop­ping cen­tre in Makueni County.

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.

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 ih the mar­ket but such projects are good be­cause they give farm­ers value for their ef­forts.”

I RE­CENTLY EARNED SH48,000 FROM MY TOMATOES SPREAD ON QUAR­TER ACRE,”

PIUS MAUNDU | NA­TION

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