In Summary
  • He started with growing vegetables on a six-acre farm at his parent's home, ploughing into the business some small capital.
  • He now farms on three acres that he has leased at Sh25,000 for three months to grow mainly tomatoes, which are at various stages of growth.
  • From an acre, he gets over 400 30kg crates in a good season, with the harvest rising as the crop ages. He sells his produce to traders in Moiben and Eldoret and sometimes to those from Nairobi and Uganda.
  • The good returns aside, he has to grapple with blight, Tuta absoluta and white flies, pests that are devastating if not eliminated.

Kipsoni village in Uasin Gishu County is no different from any other in the country, with most residents farming maize and beans and keeping some cattle.

But in the village, Elias Kiptoo has dared to be different. We find him with four young men planting crops in one section of his farm.

The farm is dotted with various vegetables, including black nightshade, cabbages and, on a larger scale, tomatoes.

“I went into farming in 2015 soon after completing Form Four,” says the 28-year-old. “The farm was idle and so was I at home so I thought why not make use of it and perhaps finance my college education.”

He started with growing vegetables on a six-acre farm at his parent's home, ploughing into the business some small capital.

“The business was good, after about a month I would sell vegetables worth Sh7,000 in a week. I would later use the returns for tomato cultivation.”

He now farms on three acres that he has leased at Sh25,000 for three months to grow mainly tomatoes, which are at various stages of growth.

“I do this to ensure I earn throughout the year and income from one harvest supports activities of the next planting,” he says. He sources water from River Moiben, which he uses to irrigate his plants.

“I can plant for three seasons, but due to market dynamics, I prefer growing two seasons, between December and April as well as August and January when prices are better.”

Kiptoo has set up a nursery where he propagates his seedlings before he plants them to the main farm after four weeks.

“I plant the crop with manure and DAP fertiliser then apply top dressing fertiliser later when weeding. They take 75 days to mature,” he says.

POTTASIUM DEFICIENCY

From an acre, he gets over 400 30kg crates in a good season, with the harvest rising as the crop ages. He sells his produce to traders in Moiben and Eldoret and sometimes to those from Nairobi and Uganda.

A 60kg crate goes for Sh5,000 when demand for tomatoes in the market is high and declines to an average of Sh3,000 when low.

“The cost of production per acre ranges from Sh100,000 to Sh150,000 and one can earn as much as Sh500,000 when the season is good.”

From the proceeds of the business, Kiptoo has built a permanent house and bought two parcels of land totalling a half-acre.

The good returns aside, he has to grapple with blight, Tuta absoluta and white flies, pests that are devastating if not eliminated.

Dr Josia Chiveu, a crop specialist at the University of Eldoret, says that for tomatoes, potassium is key because it is responsible for fruit quality, influencing traits such as flavour and aroma.

“Crop rotation helps to replenish the mineral back into the soil but one should also apply fertiliser as recommended by the soil test results.”

He adds that potassium deficiency is made worse by acidic soils (low pH) and too much rainfall or overwatering, which happens most among farmers in Uasin Gishu,” says the expert.

A farmer can easily detect potassium deficiency if the crops have white brown to whitish spots.

Dr Chiveu says the crop grows in altitudes of over 1,000m above sea level, where Uasin Gishu County falls. Good watering is key to successful tomato production.

Too much water leads to inadequate uptake by the root hairs, while too little leads to almost no uptake at all. Both scenarios cause blossom end rot, a physiological disorder making tomatoes unmarketable, he observes.