Tomato farmers in Nyeri and Kirinyaga Counties —the leading tomato producers — are counting losses following high supply that has led to drop in prices in the market.
For close to two months tomato prices have been at a record low with a kg of tomatoes selling for as little as Sh20 in some key markets.
In Kirinyaga county farmers are selling their tomatoes for as low as Sh2,000 for a 100-kilo crate.
In Nyeri county, the situation is the same as traders and farmers try to sell off their produce at throwaway prices to avoid incurring post harvest losses as the crop is highly perishable.
So what caused the oversupply in the market?
Insiders say the tomato glut came about as farmers had harvested the crop at the same time, leading to a surplus in the market. The oversupply saw the prices of tomatoes tumble in most markets countrywide.
Ruth Wangari a trader at Mjinga Market in Nyeri town said a kilo of tomatoes at Mjinga market cost Sh50 up to Sh60.
She is optimistic that the price will go up as the supply begins to drop slowly.
“Currently we are sourcing tomatoes from Kieni and Kirinyaga where the crop is still in high supply,” she said.
Wangari observed that a crate of tomatoes now goes for Sh3,500 on whole sale.
Though there is over supply in the market, some farmers recorded low harvests due to poor rainfall patterns.
James Maina a horticulture farmer at Chaka in Nyeri county said his tomato harvest was low this season compared to other seasons.
“Due to unpredictable weather patterns we experienced low production of tomatoes this season,” he said.
Maina said for the past 15 years that he has farmed tomatoes at his 11-acre farm, he has never experienced such a sharp drop in prices in the market price.
Despite the low prices the commodity is facing, unfortunately, the cost of production of tomatoes is relatively high compared to other crops.
“The cost of tomatoes seeds is Sh22,000 for 50grams which can be planted on four acres if well propagated. The crop also requires pesticides and plenty of water to thrive,” he said.
He explained that preparing a farm and buying quality pesticide and hiring labour costs him up to Sh300,000 per acre.
“Tomato is a unique crop and highly perishable. It is costly to plant and maintain till harvesting and requires a lot of work since it is delicate but it can have a good return,” Maina said.
High risk crop
He explained that tomatoes take three months till maturity and three to four weeks during propagation.
Maina added that planting starts in February and harvest in May, while the second season starts in June and is harvested in September while the last crop cycle is from October up to January.
“Tomato is a delicate crop that requires patience to grow. It is prone to pests and diseases attacks which makes it a high risk crop,” Maina observed.
Maina said he uses irrigation to grow his crops, which is an added cost.
Though tomato prices are still low, a countrywide check by The Smart Harvest shows that supplies in most tomato markets have started to drop as farmers cleared their harvests. This signals a rise in prices in the coming months.