Researchers’ day out with tomato farmers
Kenya Agricultural Livestock Research Organization (KALRO) Director-General Eliud Kireger said that excess use of pesticides without observing the postharvest intervals was causing high levels of chemical residues to accumulate in tomatoes, making the produce potentially harmful to consumers.
“The high incidences of chronic diseases being experienced in the country are partly contributed by the excessive use of agro-chemicals thus it is important for farmers to adopt the safe tomato production practices,” Dr Kireger said.
He spoke during a farmers’ field day organised under the Kenya Climate Smart Agriculture Project (KCSAP) at Rombo in Kajiado County to educate farmers on
the availability of tomato varieties, and demonstrate appropriate agronomic practices such as pest and disease control, safe use of agrochemicals, proper harvesting, postharvest handling, value addition and marketing.
Tomato is the second-most important vegetable consumed in Kenya, with its fast-growing market edging it towards a vital cash crop.
Tomato production is estimated to contribute more than Ksh15 billion annually to the country’s economy, supplying income and income to the producers and their households.
The major tomato-producing counties in Kenya are Kajiado, Kirinyaga, Taita-Taveta, Laikipia, Bungoma, and Trans-Nzoia. The production volume of tomato in Kenya currently stands at 574,458 metric tons earning the country about Ksh20 billion from an area of 28,263 hectares.
Researchers have developed several improved tomato cultivars that are high-yielding and resistant to pests, among other attributes, to enhance production. But most smallholder farmers lack information on the right varieties for specific production systems and the best agronomic practices in specific agro-ecological zones, especially in the arid and semi-arid areas.
Poor post-harvest handling, limited value addition, poorly organised urban and rural markets and poor infrastructure also cause price fluctuations and losses. “The average yield of tomato in Kenya stands at 15 tons per acre against a potential of 30-35 tons and this yield gap is as a result of various factors including biotic and abiotic stresses which include pest and diseases causing yield losses of up to 100 percent and this will require application of agrochemicals as the main control strategy,” Dr Kireger said.
Moses Murunya, the Chief Officer Agriculture and Fisheries in Kajiado, said tomato farmers in the area also face challenges accessing seeds and markets. “Our main market is Mombasa and the county government is trying to address the challenge of access to markets through the establishment of a factory that is being built by the Ewaso Nyiro Development Authority,” he said. Murunya said that once complete, the factory will address the issue of glut due to excess production or lack of immediate market.
“Value addition is the greatest solution to the glut and excess production and produce that does not go anywhere due to transport and exit point challenges,” he said. Jane Njeri Mwangi from Rombo area and who moved from Kiambu County 10 years ago to farm tomatoes termed the technologies being brought by KALRO timely as most of them have been suffering from lack of good seeds and pesticides.