If you’re interested in tomato farming in Kenya, whether for subsistence or commercial purposes, this article provides a step-by-step guide on how to get started.
Tomatoes are a staple in Kenyan cuisine, making them a valuable cash crop for farmers. To help you get started, we’ll cover the basics of tomato farming, including land acquisition, soil preparation, seed planting, and harvesting.
We’ll also provide an overview of what tomatoes are, as well as some of the best tomato varieties to grow in Kenya. With this comprehensive guide, you’ll have the knowledge you need to start your successful tomato farm in Kenya.
Let’s dive in;
Types and Structures
The scientific name of garlic is Solanum lycopersicum. Tomatoes are subclassified into many different categories that may or may not grow well in Kenya.
Types of tomatoes in Kenya
- Indeterminate type – This type grows taller and taller without limit. On the farm, the farmer must control the height of the crop
- Determinate type – These are short tomato plants that look like bushes.
With two main types of tomatoes in Kenya, let’s dive into the specific varieties that you should consider farming;
Varieties of tomatoes in Kenya
Despite the many varieties of tomatoes in Kenya, two stand out. These are;
- F1 Hybrids – These are the most viable varieties because they have been developed and characterized depending on the need of the farmer. They have been equipped with resistance against disease and pests. These tomatoes are created by crossbreeding two different varieties to come up with one superior crop that is resistant to climatic changes, pests and diseases.
- Open-pollinated varieties (OPVs) – These tomatoes have grown naturally in the field without the aid of agricultural scientists. They provide a cost-effective way of acquiring planting seeds but cannot resist pests, diseases, climate change, or the F1 variety.
Conditions necessary for tomato farming in Kenya
Weather and climate
Tomatoes generally do well in many Kenyan weather conditions. However, below is a table showing the best-recommended temperature ranges for growing tomatoes in Kenya.
|Developmental Stage||Minimum (˚C)||Optimum (˚C)||Maximum (˚C)|
|Germination||11||16 – 29||34|
|Vegetative Growth||18||21 – 24||32|
|Fruit set – night||10||14 – 17||20|
|18||19 – 24||30|
|Red Colouring||10||20 – 24||30|
|Yellow Colouring||10||21 – 32||40|
|Cold Damage||Under 6|
|Frost Damage||Under 1|
Further, ensure that your farming area has well-spread and moderate rainfall.
Soil requirements for tomato farming in Kenya
For optimum production of tomatoes in Kenya, you will need loamy, well-drained soil. However, tomatoes are generally adaptable to any other type of soil except heavy clay soil or cotton soil.
Further, you will have to put into consideration the following factors;
- Nutrition composition – Soil fertility is a critical component that determines the success of this agricultural business. You can choose to invest in commercial fertilizers such as 200kg/Ha of DSP phosphate fertilizer or 100kg/Ha of DAP or TSP fertilizers. Compost or green manure are also very good options for raising the nutrient content of your soil.
- Soil compaction – This is the compression of soil particles thus preventing the penetration of water, nutrients and air into the soil. To prevent this, make sure you till your land appropriately before planting your tomato seeds.
- PH – This is the acidity or alkalinity of the soil. You can perform your PH test through the use of kits sold at local Agro vets or higher by an agricultural technologist if you plan to grow tomatoes on large scale. Ideally, tomatoes require a PH of between 6.0 to 6.8 in Kenya.
- Crop rotation is alternating the crops grown on your land after every successful harvest. Make sure to plant a crop of a different family, to prevent the passing of pests and diseases to your tomatoes. A good option is Napier grass or maize farming.
80% of Kenya is favourable for farming. More specifically, Oloitokitok, Narok, Central Kenya, Nyanza, and Machakos, despite the dry climate.
Soil Preparation for tomato farming in Kenya
Adequate soil preparation is crucial for profitable tomato production. The goal is to create optimal growing conditions for tomato plants to develop a strong root system.
While tomato roots can penetrate various soil types up to a depth of 2 meters, most of the roots are found in the top 600mm of soil. Soil preparation offers several benefits, such as higher yield, reduced production costs, better water retention, and increased uptake of moisture and nutrients.
The choice of preparation method should depend on the plant requirements and soil type and should be done to depths between 200-400mm.
Ridging is highly recommended to promote root development, improve oxygenation, and keep excess water away from the plant.
Planting periods for tomatoes in Kenya
Determining the planting periods for tomatoes requires consideration of several factors, including temperature’s effect on plant growth, flowering, and fruit set.
Tomatoes grow best in mean temperatures between 20 and 24˚C. The critical factor for the fruit set is the night temperature, which should be from 15-20˚C for the optimal set.
The fruit set fails below 13˚C, and when the average daily temperature is above 32˚C and the night temperature is above 21˚C.
Planting periods should be based on meeting minimum temperature requirements for plant growth and ensuring growth and harvest periods are completed before adverse conditions set in.
Plant spacing and population
Plant populations vary by location and farming system. For tomatoes, commercial plant populations range from 8,000 to 35,000 plants per acre, depending on whether they are grown in open fields or greenhouses.
The optimal plant population depends on the type of chemical spraying system used, and the inter-row spacing should be at least 1.8 to 2.5 meters.
For ground-grown tomatoes, the inter-row spacing should be at least 1.8 meters to avoid plant damage during harvesting. Plants with vigorous growing habits are recommended with an in-row spacing of not closer than 35-40cm.
The highest yield of saleable products is generally achieved at the higher plant populations.
Different farming methods for growing tomatoes
There are about 3 methods, as discussed below;
- Grafting Method – This method involves joining up two different varieties that end up reproducing hybrid tomato products.
- Use of plastic bags/ hydroponics – Plants are grown in a plastic bag that has a nutrient-rich solution, instead of soil, that is pumped through the roots into the tomato plant.
- Outdoor growing method – This is the normal way of planting any crop, out in the field, with all environmental conditions affecting the growth of the tomato crops. This method requires preparation of the soil and regular maintenance, including watering, fertilizing, and pest control.
Factors to consider before settling on any method mentioned above;
- Plan to start small – If this is your first time venturing into tomato farming, it is only logical for you to start small so that you can have ample time to learn about the requirements without risking a lot of your capital.
- Farmers should first seek knowledge from experts, documentation and the government before planting
- Market research – Do proper market research. Find out who is buying tomatoes, how to contact them and the best prices for your potential farm produce. You should also look into exporting your tomatoes abroad. The tomato market is huge.
What size of land do you need to farm tomatoes in Kenya?
If you are still in the learning phase, having a limit of 1 acre is recommended. This will prevent you from making any major losses.
However, if you are an experienced farmer, your farming options are limitless. If you have a good market, you can choose to even farm tomatoes on over 100 acres. All you need is a good management and harvesting system.
Harvesting and storing tomatoes in Kenya
Harvesting and storing tomatoes properly is important to ensure that they last longer and retain their quality. Here are some tips for harvesting and storing tomatoes in Kenya:
- Harvest tomatoes when ripe: Tomatoes should be harvested when fully grown, meaning they have reached their maximum size, colour, and flavour. Avoid harvesting them when they are still green or under-ripe.
- Handle tomatoes with care: Tomatoes are delicate and can bruise easily. When harvesting them, handle them with care to avoid damaging the fruit.
- Store tomatoes at room temperature: Tomatoes should be stored at room temperature, away from direct sunlight. Avoid storing them in the fridge, as this can cause them to lose flavour and texture.
- Use proper storage containers: Store tomatoes in well-ventilated containers, such as baskets or crates, to allow air to circulate them. Avoid storing them in plastic bags or airtight containers, as this can cause them to spoil quickly.
- Check for ripeness regularly: Check stored tomatoes regularly for any signs of spoilage or over-ripeness. Remove any spoiled or damaged fruit immediately to prevent it from affecting the rest.
- Consider preserving methods: If you have a surplus of tomatoes, consider preserving them by canning, drying, or making them into tomato paste or sauce.
By following these tips, you can ensure that your harvested tomatoes stay fresh for longer and retain their quality.