KENYA – Kenya Agricultural Livestock Research Organisation (KALRO) has implored farmers to adopt Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) for tomato production in order to ensure quality and safe produce for the consumers and also safeguard the environment.
This was during a farmers’ field day at Rombo in Kajiado County under the Kenya Climate Smart Agriculture Project (KCSAP) programme, which is the government’s project jointly supported by the World Bank.
KCSAP is being implemented over a five-year period under the framework of the Agriculture Sector Development Strategy and National Climate Change Response Strategy NCCRS, 2010.
Tomato is the second most important exotic vegetable that is widely consumed in Kenya, and its production constitutes one of the fastest growing markets edging towards a vital cash crop.
Cases of excessive use of pesticides have always been reported with the agro-chemicals used by farmers having been banned by the government but they still find their way into the farmers’ fields.
Dr Eliud Kireger, KALRO’s Director General informed that excess use of pesticides without observing the post-harvest intervals (PHI), leads to the tomatoes accumulating high residues of the chemicals thereby slowly affecting the consumers of the tomatoes and tomato products.
“The high incidents 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 and practice the safe tomato production practices,” the DG said.
However, Dr Kireger said these efforts can only bear fruits through concerted efforts by all stakeholders not as competitors but in a complimentary manner since all are serving the same farmer.
Farmers ignorant of tomato varieties
He pointed out that several improved tomato cultivars that are high yielding, and resistant to pests amongst other attributes have been developed to enhance tomato production.
Even so, most smallholder farmers do not use them due to lack of information on the right varieties suitable for specific production systems and best agronomic packages in specific agro ecological zones, especially in the arid and semi-arid areas.
He added that poor postharvest handling and limited value addition, also cause high price fluctuations and postharvest losses, in addition to poorly organized urban and rural markets and poor infrastructure, leading to a decline in production and productivity.
“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 pests and diseases causing yield losses of up to 100 percent and this will require application of agrochemicals as the main control strategy,” he said.
Dr Kireger noted that the collaboration between KALRO,KCSAP and Kajiado County to organize the field day was to ensure farmers were sensitized on the availability of tomato varieties , demonstrations of various aspects of tomato production that include; appropriate agronomic practices; pests and disease control; safe use of agro-chemicals; proper harvesting and post-harvest handling of the tomato fruit as well as value addition and marketing.
Moses Murunya , the Chief Officer Agriculture and Fisheries in Kajiado County, acknowledged that farmers in the Rombo area which is currently the highest producer of tomatoes in the country, has been facing challenges in terms of production of tomatoes, in soils, capacity to produce optimally due to seeds and also in market accessibility.
Value addition to address losses
“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.
He said the factory will address the issue of glut when it comes to excess production or even due to poor markets as it will invest in value addition, and this will automatically address the farmers’ post-harvest losses they have been incurring.
“Value addition is the greatest solution to the glut and excess production and even production that does not go anywhere due to transport and exit point challenges,” he said, noting that apart from creating employment, money readily for farmers, revenue for the county, there will be improvement use of all by products for use for livestock feeds once the factory is up and running.
The major tomato producing counties in Kenya are Kajiado, Kirinyaga, Taita-Taveta, Laikipia, Bungoma, and Trans-Nzoia with the production volume of tomato in the country currently standing at 574,458 metric tons and earning the country about ksh20 billion (US 175,131,348) annually from an area of 28,263 hectares, according to Kenya News Agency.