By Ayoola Olaitan
Tomatoes are Africa’s most consumed fruit (or vegetable); eaten by millions of people across our continent. Both in its raw and processed forms, tomatoes are central to most African diets and remain a regular ingredient in many soups, stews, sauces and dishes across the continent.
Sadly, our continent does not provide enough tomatoes to meet its own needs. Almost every country in Africa consumes more tomatoes than it produces.
The rest is imported from outside the continent, especially from China which is now the world’s biggest exporter of tomato products.
How Do You Setup A Tomato Farm?
To setup a working tomato farm, you’d need a variety of conditions and resources to both be met and acquired. These are:
1). A Farmland:
You’d need a wide area to grow your crops. Whether you’re starting out of your backyard or not, having a dedicated piece of land groomed specifically for growing your tomato crops is the first and most important thing.
2). Tomato Seeds:
Having the right breed of tomato seeds is important to the success of your tomato farm. Whether it’s roma tomatoes (the most common and widely sold tomato breed in Nigeria), cherry tomatoes, sauce tomatoes, beefsteak tomatoes or even more, identifying and purchasing the seeds for the right breed is important to your farm’s success.
The tomato seeds are best grown indoors first, then transferred to beds when they have an established root system and a few leaves. This is important because they need a constant temperature of at least 60 degrees and preferably 80 degrees to germinate.
3). A Good Irrigation System:
Your crops would need to be grown in a highly regulated watered environment. Dry lands mostly never grow crops, and with various factors like timing, genetics, environment, water supply, and more to be considered, a good irrigation system must be in place to ensure your tomato crops stay health.
Not all farmlands are suitable to grow tomato crops. For some, you need to constantly fertilise the soil to achieve optimum growth. Using the right fertilizer on your farmlands to aid your tomato crop growth is important to the crop’s full and healthy maturity.
How To Grow Tomatoes
Tomato farming is very simple. Anyone can do it in any capacity, either in the backyard or in commercial quantity. Growing tomato is much more rewarding than you could ever imagined. Tomato can be grown round the year, especially in places like Kano where there is irrigation system specifically made for it. In other places, it is best cultivated during the rainy season.
Step 1: (Pick up The Best Species) – The improved yield specie is the best choice for farmers, do not pick the local species. In this case, I will recommend the Roma variety. The Roma tomato known for it’s size and redness is a plum tomato very popular in the Nigerian markets. This specie can be used both for canning and producing tomato paste. It is also commonly found in supermarkets in some countries like the United States. Roma tomatoes are also known as Italian tomatoes, it is also called Italian plum tomatoes.
What makes Roma specie very unique is it’s long shelf life, it’s hard back, and low water content which enables it to last longer after harvest. A paint rubber of the seed cost about N4,500
Step 2: (Prepare The Nursery) – This can be done around March/April when the rain is just beginning in most parts of the country. You can use your backyard for the nursery or any other piece of land the is suitable for it. Tomatoes does very well in most soil types in Nigeria but better in a black loose loamy soil. Prepare the ground by clearing the grasses and rubble, loosen the soil with hand trowel and hoes.
Remove the seeds from the tomatoes and spread it on the prepared soil. You can cover it with dry grasses to prevent the lose of moisture from the soil and prevent birds ants fowls from eating off the tomato farming seeds.
Within 5-7days you will see it germinating. Wait till about another five days before you remove the dry grasses to allow for proper growth. Leave it for another one month before transplanting.
Step 3: (Transplant to The Garden/Farm) – The final journey will be moving it into the permanent farm where they would grow to maturity and production.
If your farm is too big that you can’t do the transplanting alone, hire laborers according to your need. You need to be careful with the tender plan to avoid breaking it. Transplant is best done with hands for better results.
Open the soil with piece of small wood, insert the seedling into the hole and cover it with lose soil. Tomato plan is very tender and fragile, it is best transplanted the same day you uprooted it from the nursery to avoid dehydration and fatigue.
Step 4: (Weed and Apply Fertilizer) – After two months from transplant, it will be time for weeding. Hire laborers to do the weeding while you supervise to ensure that your tomato plants are not damaged during the process of removing weeds.
After the first weed, it will be time to apply fertilizer to help replenish the soil nutrients taken by the weeds. To grow successfully, tomatoes need nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, potash, calcium, and magnesium, along with other trace minerals. It’s always best to have your soil tested to check for nutrient levels and pH level.
Step 5: (Harvest Your Tomatoes) – Tomato is harvested in matches, the moment you starts harvesting, you’ll continue on weekly basis till the end of the season, usually it will keep producing till the dry season when the plant will die off due to the scorchingheat.
The first harvest starts within three months after planting. That means if you plan by April, you should be expecting your first harvest to start by June/July. From then, it will continue till November/December.
Step 6 (Market Your Tomatoes) – It is important to prepare your marketing well ahead of harvesting. Look for who or where to supply the product. This is because, tomato is a perishable product unless you have built storage system.
Mile 12 is the major market for fresh tomatoes and other vegetables in Lagos. Its purely dominated by the Northerners who majors in this farming, harvesting cash over the years. Why? 90% of vegetables consumed in Lagos are brought in from the North. Virtually nothing is produced in the. South West, South East and South South. Lagos alone has over 15,000,000 million people consuming tomatoes almost on daily basis. So, you can see the potential in the farming business.
There is need for smart entrepreneurs to see the opportunity for big business and big money in this sector. We have gotten to the point where we need young savvy entrepreneurs to break into this sector and start producing and delivering quality, hygienic tomatoes at very affordable price.
The mass market remains the key to success in Agribusiness and I would rather sell 1,000 basket a day for N2,000 each than sell just 100 basket a day for N5,000 per basket. The money is in the mass market and we need to start seeing it that way and working that way. Produce more, sell less amount, and make more money.
The Key Advantage Of Tomato Farming
The insatiable demand from Africans for tomato products is the ultimate advantage of venturing into tomato farming. With the demand far exceeding the available supply coupled with imported supplements, tomato farming done on a large scale would not only reap tremendous returns for the farmers, but would also guarantee their crops are sold out quickly.
What Are The Risks Involved In Tomato Farming?
Potential risks ranging from rodent, insects, pests, birds, and more attacks on your crops could lead to terrible losses.
The startup cost for running a large scale tomato farm, or tomato processing plant is extremely high. Not treating such an investment with care could not only lead to a heavy loss, but could tank an individual’s financial status all together.
Tomato farming is a lucrative agricultural business opportunity if carried out on a large scale. While several perks may haunt this venture, the advantages far outweigh the risks.