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Kenya starts greenhouse tomato farming

Kenya has started greenhouse production of tomatoes, raising hopes that the popular vegetable will become available throughout the year at affordable prices.

In the new system developed by the Kenya Horticulture Development Programme (KHDP) and agricultural inputs suppliers Seminis Seeds and Osho Chemical Industries, a grower requires about 240 square metres of land and a greenhouse kit to get started.

The cheapest kit, comprising a 500 litre water tank, irrigation drip lines, plastic sheet, seeds and chemicals has been put at Ksh150,000 ($2,239) for those participating in the project. The plot of land can grow 1,000 plants.

The fourth demonstration site, for the Coast province, was launched last week at the Agricultural Training Centre in Mtwapa, Mombasa. Others are in Nairobi at the Horticultural Crops Development Authority compound near the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport, at the Agricultural Training Centre, Kabiangi in Kericho, and at the Lake Basin Development Authority compound in Kisumu.

According to the KHDP, the greenhouse tomato project, one of the activities the programme is supporting to help increase the incomes of rural households, is borrowed from Israel, where the country has most of its agriculture under greenhouses due to scarcity of water and land. It is also widely practised in the United States.

If the concept is widely embraced, Kenya could start enjoying year-round supply of tomatoes, which currently get damaged during the wet seasons, pushing prices through the roof. According to Peter Randa, the marketing manager and project technical advisor, growing crops under greenhouses has many advantages, among them the ability to produce huge quantities on a small piece of land and continuous harvesting. The tomatoes have a shelf-life of 21 days compared with 14 for those grown in the open.

It takes a shorter period — two months — for greenhouse-produced tomatoes to mature, while it takes a minimum of three months with outdoor farming.

Due to controlled irrigation and temperatures, the crop sports a continuous output of flowers and fruits, all at different stages.

One plant has a potential of up to 15 kg at first harvest, going up to 60 kg by the time it has completed its full cycle — recommended at one year.