Tomatoes and capsicum lift youths’ fortunes

Kenyan youth are minting quick money with tomatoes and capsicum which have become the latest high valued crops due to their fast maturity and their growing demand with some youth earning as much as Sh500,000 every harvest.
Capsicum and tomatoes are both fast-maturing, taking about three months on the farm before one starts harvesting money.

The short maturity period fits wells with wishes of the youth, who have no patience to grow and wait for crops like maize to mature in about seven months. And the fact that the two crops need small pieces of land to grow and have a ready market in urban areas has made them quite popular.

Many farmers are thus abandoning cultivating vegetables like sukuma wiki (collard green) and cabbages, which were once the money-maker. Capsicum is a pepper fruit, which can be eaten raw or cooked as a vegetable, and sometimes it is dried and, thereafter, processed. The crop has higher demand particularly in urban areas where families use it to spice food.

In Nairobi, dozens of trucks deliver tonnes of the produce to vegetable markets every day, with each capsicum going for an average of Sh15 for wholesale price and Sh20for retail. Similarly, tomatoes, like capsicum, are all-season crops that have a huge market in Nairobi. Currently, a bunch of three tomatoes is going for between Sh15 and Sh20.
“There is good money in capsicum and tomatoes. They mature faster and yield more as each plant produces about four capsicums or tomatoes per harvest. I harvest twice a month from my 700 plants,” Bernard Watitu, who grows the crops in a greenhouse in Juja, said.

He sells his produce from the boot of his car to traders and residents of Buru Buru, a suburb on the east of Nairobi. It is about two years since Watitu, 35, started growing the crop after losing his job. “I used part of my Sh400,000 severance package to lease the farm, construct greenhouse, buy a drip irrigation system and seeds and planted in the 20m by 50m structure. The returns are good,” said Watitu, adding the venture has offered him a nice job since 2012.

About 40km away from Juja, in Kitengela, there is Christine Wachu, another young farmer growing capsicum and tomatoes on her parents’ land. “I set up the farm with the help of my parents after I had searched for a job in vain. I grow the crops in a greenhouse and sell the produce to traders in the town,”she said.
Kitengela, like other Nairobi suburbs, is densely populated with market for both capsicum and tomatoes being unlimited all- year round.

“Capsicum and tomatoes are the new gold on Kenyan farms,” noted western Kenya-based agricultural extension officer Bernard Moina. “We are encouraging farmers to grow the crops but most of those who are doing it are the youth on small pieces of land. The large- scale farmers, for instance, in Trans Nzoia have stuck to maize.”
Moina observed that the two crops are easier to grow, tend and harvest. But it is not all a rosy affair as the crops, particularly, tomatoes are prone to diseases.
Tomatoes are attacked by bacterial wilt and pests like tuta absoluta and aphids. However, capsicum is hardly affected by diseases.

Tomatoes, according to the ministry of agriculture, are the third most important vegetable in the country in terms of tonnage produced. Last year, Kenya’s total production stood at 494,036.5 tonnes with a value of 158 million dollars. The varieties grown in Kenya include money-marker, hot set, super marmande and ponderosa.