New processing plant to help cut tomato loss

Every season, farmers grow tomatoes at the same time flooding the market. The situation leads to low prices and post-harvest losses. But this can be a thing of the past.

Makueni County has constructed three cold stores in Tulimani, Kalongo and Kavuthu, that will be used by farmers to store their perishable products, till prices stabilise. The plants will also help increase the produce’s shelf life.

Makueni County CEC Agriculture Irrigation Livestock and Fisheries Development Nzioki King’ola says they will also start to process tomatoes to various products like sauce and jam at the newly established Makueni Fruit Processing plant located in Kalamba.

Meanwhile, farmers in Makueni are working extra hard to get a market for their tomatoes now that the market is flooded with the produce.

Mwana Horticulture made up of members from Kisau Location of Mbooni East and Makueni County is one such group. The group operates from a one acre land that was donated by a member. During a visit to the farm, The Smart Harvest and Technology found members sorting and packing tomatoes into crates ready for the market.

“We have just harvested tomatoes, now sorting them out and packing them into crates ready to be transported to various markets as per the orders,” says Benjamin Muia, one of the members.

Selling together

One of the strategies they use to cope with the tough times is to work together as a group- planting, harvesting and selling as a unit. That way they have a stronger bargaining power.

Initially, they would plant and sell as individually but after doing market research, it was clear they stood to gain if they operated as a unit.

“It made economic sense selling together than everybody taking his or her own produce to the market. We would aggregate our produce at once place where buyers came and took it in wholesale,” Muia says.

In 2019, they were linked to the National Agricultural and Rural Inclusive Growth Project (NARIGP) that assists upscale farmers. The NARIGP is a Government project that is implemented through the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock Fisheries and Irrigation, with funding support from the World Bank.

NARIGP helped them identify problems, resources and available solutions along tomato value chain.

“As a group, we wrote a proposal requesting to invest in tomato value chain and submitted to NARIGP through the community development committee,” he recalls. Luckily, theirs was among groups that were selected for support.

They got equipment and farm inputs worth Sh500,000 which include seeds, fertilisers, agrochemicals, water tank, drip kit, solar panels, water pumps and pipes.

The group were also trained on modern farming technologies and climate smart agriculture developed by Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organization (Kalro).

Paul Musyimi, County Project Coordinator, NARIGP Makueni explains the objective of the project is to increase agricultural productivity and profitability.

“In order to do this, farmers had to be trained on the new technologies. Apart from being funded, farmers also have demo plots from which they learn and acquire skills on all the technologies on tomatoes. This will increase not only the quality but also productivity,” he explains.

The project also provided the group with an agronomist who guided them from planting to harvesting.

Muia says, “l didn’t know preparing land was such a big issue when you want to plant any crop. Tomatoes are deep-rooted and heavy feeders and thrive in high organic soils. The soils must be well prepared with nutrients to sustain them throughout the growing season.”

Timing is key

He adds, timing is also important in tomato production because it will determine how much you sell your crops and the profits you make.

In a week, the groups at least 135 crates of tomatoes and have ready markets in Machakos, Wote, Kitui and individual customers.

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