Production of Greenhouse Tomatoes
Traditionally, production of tomatoes in Kenya used to happen almost 100% in open fields. But things have changed with the adoption of greenhouses by a group of modern farmers seeking to increase the crop production. Amiran, the pioneer greenhouse company played a big role in this by making greenhouses mass and accessible to the everyday farmer as opposed to the trend before where greenhouses were the preserve of big corporate farmers.
Greenhouse farming of tomatoes has advantages over open field farming in terms of longer production period, reduction in pests and diseases risk and better management of resources. On the other hand there without proper management greenhouse farming could lead to losses.
That notwithstanding, much of tomato production in the country happens in the open fields. This is because greenhouse farming despite its advantages is a relatively capital-intensive venture. Kshs. 70,000 and above is that is required to set up and farm on a standard 8 meters by 15 meters greenhouse is still out of reach for many small farmers.
Advantages of Greenhouse Farming Over Open Field Farming
- Longer production period – Tomatoes can be harvested for 6 to 8 months
- Provides Ideal production environment hence high yield
- Gives high quality produce
- Shorter maturity period – On average tomato varieties grown in greenhouses mature within 60– 70 days as compared to 75 to 90 for outdoor varieties.
- Reduced risk of pests and diseases.
- With greenhouse , Market timing is possible
- Better management of resources for example through drip irrigation
- Better use of land – Using greenhouse technology a small piece of land can be leveraged in such a way that several crops are grown
The Market Realities
Although by and large tomato farming looks lucrative what with the high demand and billion shillings value, the reality is that growing tomatoes is a high-risk venture and not always as smooth as it may look or as some have portrayed it.
This is for a number of reasons:
- Because of diseases and pests. Some of which are resistant to pesticides.
- Because of unpredictable weather conditions, e.g. too much rain, extremely low or high temperatures and the like.
- Tomatoes are highly perishable products, and thus have to get to the market within a reasonable time otherwise they get spoilt. Thus, if on harvest prices are depressed, a farmer without cold storage facilities can’t store the produce for sale in the future when prices are favorable.
- Prices are volatile. There is no pool of information good enough to help correctly predict price trends. For instance, a farmer using the previous year’s trend can say , January tomato prices are usually great . But then there could be more farmers like him all aiming for January and come the start of the year the market is flooded with tomatoes and prices are comes down.
Diseases & Pests
In a way tomatoes are fragile creatures susceptible to a number of diseases and pests which can destroy the whole crop within a short while. Even before the coming of Tuta Absoluta to Kenya diseases and pests have killed the dreams of many farmers. Sometimes not even pesticides are of help.
As a tomato farmer you should be real to this, and be extra keen in monitoring your crops and consulting professionals in case of anything you are not sure of. (Download the Complete Guide below for diseases and Pests analysis)