When Paul Kimwele embarked on farming tomatoes in March, all was well and as expected, he had a bumper harvest. But then Covid-19 set in and disrupted the market but on online sales have come to his rescue
A sea of tomatoes, that is how best one can describe Paul Kimwele's farm and store in Kiromboko village, Wikithuki sub-location in Kitui County.
While his tomato plants are sagging with fruits, his store is full of the produce as the 38-year-old, who holds a Masters of Arts in Economic Policy Management from Makerere University and Bachelor of Arts in Economics from University of Nairobi, sells the produce.
Normally, he farms on 13 acres in total located along Tana River but currently the tomatoes sit on four acres, having started the venture in February 2019.
"I started with watermelons, getting capital from my savings and the first harvest was more than encouraging. I made good money, about Sh500,000," he says.
This encouraged him to plant more melons but poor managament by the person who was looking after the farm saw him harvest big losses thereafter.
"This made me take a break and then switch to tomatoes and reduce the acreage. I planted the tomatoes in March and I am currently selling them though the prices have not been very good," says Kimwele, who currently works at Kitui county government as an economist and also part-times at Full Life Church, based at Wikithuki town, as a pastor.
He is currently selling the tomatoes in Kitui and Mwingi towns but the low prices have made him make big losses.
"The tomatoes did well but the market was distorted by the Covid-19 pandemic. This happened after several open air markets were closed and movement restricted pushing down," says Kimwele, who works with eight employees and engages around 30 casuals when need arises.
"With online marketing, I have widened my market and got some reliable buyers due to the increased visibility. On average I am producing over 100 kilos of tomatoes per week, which can give me up to Sh200,000 per month if the market prices are good," he says, noting that to sale online, he takes photos of the produce and posts on Mkulima Young, alongside his contact and location.
The method has worked well in terms of enabling him to get clients from outside Ukambani, some who are willing to visit his farm.
"Online marketing has helped me diversift the number of customers I have guaranteeing me better prices."
With a stable job, Kimwele farms on the side. "I mostly visit the farm over the weekend. I do most of my research online for latest farming technologies and learn most of the things by trying them practically on the farm," he says.
His main challenges are lack of skilled workers, poor marketing of products, low prices, intensive capital needed and high cost of labour and farm inputs like pesticides and fertilisers.
"My goal is to become a classic modern farmer, a reliable supplier to the markets. This needs commitment, availability, hardwork and consistency," he says.
According to him, tomato farming is rewarding despite challenges. "The market has peaks and off-peaks, which balance off. I advise potential farmers to start small and keep growing slowly. Farming is the solution to unemployment in Kenya, we are living in days when joblessness is the norm . Capital, labour, land and technology are available, the youth shoudl capitalise on them," he says.