News and knowhow for farmers

Youth take learning to the farm to earn in Coronavirus school closure

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By George Munene

The halt in schooling caused by the coronavirus has left hundreds of thousands of young people at home for at least another four months at a time when the economy is estimated to have lost one million jobs and forecasts of economic contraction compete for gloom. However, some of our youth have turned to agriculture to earn through the break.

Frank Muthomi, a Bachelor of Science in Animal Science student at Egerton University is one such young man. At Nkubu town in Meru County the 24-year-old is now a month into establishing the Rambo F1 tomato variety on ¼ of an acre.

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Some of the bananas on his farm are now ready for harvest and he’d hoped this would give him some upkeep money once schools reopened. Covid-19 has upended his plans and he’s used this opportunity to delve into the much more labour intensive but high value tomato farming.

To start off, he was simultaneously tending to his tomato seedlings in a nursery—they need one month to mature—whilst harvesting maize from the previous season, clearing and preparing his land to receive the tomatoes.

For manure, he bought five 100 Kg bags from Isiolo for Sh400 a bag—a lorry of the same goes for Sh35,000 and farmers contend that the goat manure from Meru’s neighbour county gives better yields as it is more easily taken up by crops than the locally sourced usual cow manure.

He also bought 15 Kgs of DAP fertiliser for Sh1050.

For every tomato plant he transplanted he mixed in fertiliser and manure then watered adequately to avoid scorching his plants. With his labour force of five, this took four days, and he paid each person Sh400 daily.

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Pests are the bane of any tomato farmer, for Frank these are usually red spider mites, thrips and cutworms. Beforehand, he had read up on pest control and readied himself with a regiment of pesticides, which he alternately sprays once every week to avoid pests building up resistance.

He waters his tomatoes once every day, unless the weather is very cold. He also cautions farmers against the use of sprinklers—water shouldn’t get in contact with tomato leaves as this exacerbates cases of blight.

In the third week after transplanting, the tomato roots were established enough to top dress, which he did with DAP and compound NPK 23:23:23 fertiliser. He has also desuckered and staked his tomatoes—this reduces the number of branches making the plant healthier and encourages vertical growth, it also makes the plant suitable for support.

Frank is now readying for his first harvest. From the market study he has done of the nearby Nkubu and Kiigene markets, he could fetch at least Sh25 per kg for his tomatoes. He bought a 25 gram sachet of seed for Sh1,000 and hopes to harvest 4,000 kilograms from his crop, bringing in revenue of around Sh100,000. For the next season, he plans to grow cabbages.

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