Farmers count losses as tomatoes rot on farms
Mr King’ori has been growing tomatoes on his five-acre plot at Wangwachi village for the last 10 years.
This has been his main source of income. It has helped him educate his five children, two who are in the university.
Early this year, he borrowed Sh500,000 from a local bank to invest in his tomato farm next to Wangwachi dam, whose waters he has been relying on for irrigation.
Then the rains came, and his entire investment went down the drain. Today, he is among hundreds of tomato farmers counting losses, as tonnes of the crop rot in the farms for lack of market.
A crate of tomatoes that previously fetched Sh6,000 is now going for a couple of hundreds of shillings, if one is lucky to find a willing buyer. “We are now feeding our tomatoes to cows and pigs. This is a total loss to us and even as we speak, the bank is breathing down my neck demanding loan repayment,” said Kingori.
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Such is the change of fortunes, that even the cattle and pigs have had enough of the tomato, leaving them rotting in sodden farms.
“Mine will not touch tomatoes, they are rotting away in the farms because we have nowhere to sell them,” said Julia Wambui.
To cash in on the situation, middle-men are trooping to the farms, offering peanuts for crates of tomatoes.
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According to Ms Wambui, only buyers from Tanzania are offering better prices.
“They visit the area once in a week, that is when we sell the produce at Sh2,500 per crate. The local buyers are exploiting us. We are now considering quitting the business,” she said.
The situation has left leaders in the area scratching their heads for a solution.
At the weekend, Agriculture Cabinet Secretary Mwangi Kiunjuri and Laikipia West MP Patrick Mariru came face to face with the dire situation the farmers are in and promised to find a solution.
Governor Ndiritu Muriithi has said his administration is seeking the support of the private sector to set up a tomato processing factory.
“We are ready to partner with any private company so that a factory can be established to end this rot. It is regrettable that the only tomato factory nearby is Kabazi, many kilometers away,” said the governor.
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Whether a private company will come in and partner with the county on the tomato processing factory idea is not certain for now. What is certain is, that King’ori has lost the Sh500,000 he invested in his tomato farm.