Despite being one of the most challenging ventures, Nicholas Munene makes handsome returns from horticulture farming, where many farmers have failed due to high level of post-harvest losses.
Mr Munene, who has surmounted all the challenges that come with this type of farming, rakes in Sh40,000 in a week from his half an acre farm of tomatoes in Kirinyaga .
Kirinyaga County, which is largest producer of commercial tomatoes with an estimated 25 percent share of the produce in Kenya, incurs post-harvest losses of up to 55 percent on tomatoes alone.
Mr Munene says the secret to all this is getting proper training on horticulture farming to enable farmers understand how to handle their crop and cut on post-harvest losses.
“What a lot of farmers lack is basics on growing, handling and marketing of delicate crops such as tomatoes. Once they get these fundamentals right, they will forever embrace horticulture,” says Mr Munene.
From his current crop on the farm, Mr Munene harvests five times a week where he gets 10 trays and with a single tray selling at the current market price of Sh4,000.
This means that the farmer makes a cool 40,000 every week translating to Sh160,000 a month. He can harvest for up to three months from the time the crop matures, depending on the variety that he planted.
Mr Munene is one of the farmers who benefited from the Korea Africa Food and Agricultural corporation initiative (KAFACI) project, which is being conducted in 15 African countries to help farmers address the challenges of post-harvest losses in horticulture.
The Kenya Agriculture Livestock and Research Organisation (Kalro) and the Korean government have been running this programme since 2014 with the aim of helping farmers to reduce their post-harvest losses by 20 percent
Kalro’s post-harvest physiologist Margaret Muchui says farmers stand to gain from horticulture if they get awareness on crop handling and following all the good practices to the latter.
“There are basic things such as the time that farmers should start harvesting their tomato. Most growers ignore this and they end up losing a lot,” said Dr Muchui.
The physiologist is urging farmers to start harvesting their tomato crops early in the morning rather than during the day to reduce sunlight exposure that tears off tomatoes skin. These are some of the practices that Mr Munene has been observing.
“The six year project therefore is to reduce the losses and our target is to reduce the post-harvest losses of horticultural crops to 20 from the current 50 percent.
Experts too attribute the post-harvest losses to limited knowledge on proper handling of tomato that has been harvested immediately rather than lack of storage equipment as it has for long been thought.
For instance most farmers are not aware that when harvesting, they need to leave a stalk on the tomato.