The County Government of Kirinyaga is supporting tomato farmers to increase production in readiness for the upcoming Sagana Agro-Industrial City that will incorporate a tomato processing factory.
To scale up production, the county government has supported 69 community groups in construction of tomato greenhouses and propagation of high yielding disease tolerant varieties as well as capacity building along the tomato value chain.
Kirinyaga produces about 60,000 tons of tomatoes earning farmers around Ksh. 1.6 billion annually. Through Wezesha Program more than 2,000 farmers have been supported to plant an additional 1.1 million seedlings and increase land under tomatoes to an extra 122 acres. This has increased production by an extra 11,000 tons.
Governor Anne Waiguru has said that the county farmers will be the major beneficiaries of the upcoming agro-industrial city since they will have a ready market for their produce. Additionally, they will be cushioned against post-harvest loses and reap more from value addition of their crop.
Through Tomato Growers Cooperative Societies, farmers will be able to aggregate and negotiate for better market for their produce and get training so that they are part of the supply chain of the Tomato Processing Factory.
Already, the county government has constructed an exclusive tomato aggregation center at Makutano from where buyers will be collecting the tomatoes in bulk.
One of the beneficiaries of the tomato value chain support by the County Government is
James Muriithi, the Chairperson of Mwihotori Kerugoya Youth Group. His group was supported to construct a green house, install a drip irrigation system and supplied with high yielding and disease resistant tomato seedlings.
The members are also continuously educated on good agricultural practices thus enabling them to nurture their crop as required.
Muriithi said that the group is expecting a bumper harvest of tomatoes in the next two months. While the crop under the group project is already at fruiting stage, members have also replicated the project at individual level in their farms utilizing the knowledge gained from the group project. He said that while their initial market will be Kerugoya and surrounding towns, members are anticipating better returns once a processing factory is set up in the county.
He noted that before the county government intervened, members were using traditional farming methods that were not only expensive but would not guarantee that their croup will reach maturity stage before being wiped away by pests or diseases.
“The advantage of greenhouse farming is that the tomatoes are highly protected from diseases and pests thus reducing the need to use herbicides and pesticides and eventually reducing cost of production,” said Muriithi. He noted that the tomato variety is high yielding and has a one year duration of production thus becoming a highly profitable venture.
While some groups have been supported to grow tomatoes, others like Michael Njue have been supported in seedling propagation. Njue runs a seedlings propagation enterprise in Kimbimbi, Mwea where he established a greenhouse after undergoing training by the County Government.
He initially ran a traditional tree nursery but after the capacity building, he was able to set up a greenhouse and adopt modern seedling propagation technologies, which has led to increased production and reduced labor. He said that he was also trained on marketing and has been able to get customers throughout the country through online marketing strategy.
“Through the seedlings business, I have been able to meet my basic needs and acquire properties as well. I have also created employment opportunities for seven people and I contract more during the high season,” he said.
Njue added that local production of tomato seedlings has saved local farmers from incurring costs of transportation since they previously sourced for seedlings from Naivasha.
This reduces the cost of production for their crop thus increasing their profit margins. Njue is hopeful that with the establishment of a tomato processing factory, demand for seedlings will be high since more farmers will be growing tomatoes.
He thanked the county government for supporting farmers, noting that agriculture is the backbone of the county’s economy. He urged the youth to venture into agri-preneurship saying that there is money in the soil.
Governor Waiguru has said that through Wezesha Kirinyaga, her administration is committed to making agricultural activities in the county translate to more money into the farmer’s pockets hence improved livelihoods.