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Tomato farming and how to make N10 million per season

Tomato farming has been a money spinner for ages due to the fact that almost everybody eats the vegetable. From Nigeria to Ghana, The United Kingdom to Japan, Ondo to Zaria, Aba to Lokoja and Lagos to Abuja, tomato is a produce that can turn you to a millionaire in no time if you follow all the necessary protocols while farming it.

In Nigeria, tomato farming is predominantly done in the northern part of the country. Most states in the north like Kano, Jigawa, Plateau, Benue, Kaduna, Gombe, Bauchi, Sokoto, Kebbi, Nasarawa, Zamfara and Kogi have huge tomato plantations. Tomato farming is also done in the southern part of Nigeria. Today, a lot of people even cultivate tomato in Lagos state, hitherto Lagos was not known as a tomato growing area.

It is a fact that over 80% of tomato farmers in Nigeria still cultivate tomatoes in the old and outdated ways. This has made the average yield of tomatoes in Nigeria to be about 2 tonnes while in countries like Netherland and Israel, yields of tomato can be up to 100 tonnes per hectare. Those using greenhouses in Netherland and some other countries have achieved yields of up to 400 tonnes per hectare of tomato.

Most of the harvested fresh tomatoes in Nigeria also rot away because of lack of storage facilities. Nigeria hardly processes its fresh tomatoes to paste; however, things are gradually changing with the advent of Dangote Tomato paste plant in Kano. Other tomato paste plants like Tomato Jos are also springing up.

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tomato farming

Steps to take to be successful in tomato farming

The interest in farming in the last 5 years increased tremendously due to the lull in crude oil market and the aggressive agriculture focused campaign of the government. The rate of youth unemployment has also lured a lot of young people to farming.

It is advisable you undergo training in tomato farming before you start your farm. You may decide to attend reputable agricultural institute for training, please avoid attending institutes that will teach you only the theoretical aspect of farming.

Undergoing internship in a good tomato farm is also not a bad idea. Look around for tomato farms with a good operational set-up, approach them and ask that you want to understudy their operations. Some farms may ask you to pay for them to train you.

You can also learn some tricks about tomato farming on the internet. Youtube videos are very educative; there are also other valuable documents on tomato farming on the internet. The disadvantage of this option is that you will not physically see how tomato is cultivated.

Employing personnel skilled in tomato farming iis also a way you can get your tomato farm started without hiccups. Avoid employing people with big paper qualifications in Agriculture without the necessary experience. I have seen an experienced English graduate before who was teaching Masters Degrees holder in Agronomy how tomato farming should be done. Experience is key not big qualifications.

Farm Location

Since you are done with training and employing good hands. Now is the time to get a location for your farm. Do you want to farm in the southern or northern part of Nigeria? Do you want to do urban farming or rural farming? All these options have their own merits and demerits.

Getting a farmland with a flat topography is good, also make sure that the road leading to your farm is good, this will help in seamless evacuation of your produce.

Farmland can be rented or leased; you may also acquire the farmland. You should consider your cash outflow when you want to decide either to buy or lease.

Recruitment of staff

You need to employ people who are skilled in farming. Poaching staff from existing farm is not a bad idea; also you may ask agricultural training institutes to recommend people to you for employment.

You should be very careful in recruiting uneducated farm hands, they have poor attitude to work and their attrition rate is quite high.

Your members of staff can make or mar your farm. It is very important to get this process right. There are a number of recruitment agencies in Nigeria who recruit workers for farms.

Water and Power

If your farmland does not have a ready source of water, you may need to drill a borehole or well, you can also create a mini reservoir to harvest and store rain water. Rain fed farming is outdated, you need to farm all year round, with a functional source of water, you can farm tomatoes all year round. Year round farming with smart technologies like drip irrigation is called brain fed farming; this is the way to go.

Soil and Water Analysis

Going to farm without doing the complete analysis of the soil and water is like going to an exam hall without anything in your brain. A good soil test will show you the levels of nutrients in the soil, pH of the soil and the microbial count in the soil. Some soil tests can show you if the soil is infected with diseases like bacterial wilt. Bacterial wilt can wreck your tomato farm within days.

The result of the soil test will point you to the type of fertiliser or manure to apply to your soil to get good yield. If your soil has diseases or pest like nematode, you will need to apply the necessary solution to these problems. Water test will show you the pH of the water and the nutrients like calcium in the water.

Seed selection

Planting untreated seeds can introduce harmful microbes to your soil and cause a whole lot of problems. Some types of soil infections can persist for years.

You must insist on buying good seeds from reputable sellers. Do you want to plant open pollinated seeds or hybrid seeds? Hybrid seeds in most cases have better yields and disease tolerances.

You also need to plant the type of tomatoes eaten in Nigeria. Planting varieties of tomatoes not favoured in Nigeria may lead to rejection at the point of sales.

Seeds with tolerances to diseases prevalent in your location should be planted. Some seeds are also better in different season. You must take note of all these facts.

Drip Irrigation

Drip irrigation remains the best type of irrigation for tomato farming. Tomato plants do not like water on their leaves; this may increase the chances of getting foliar infections that may ruin the plants.

Drip irrigation is the controlled passing of water to the roots of plants. Drip irrigation lines are tubes or pipes with emitters, the emitters pass water to plants in a trickle form. Some emitters can emit 1-8 litres of water per hour depending on the type you buy.

Drip irrigation can save up to 80% water as compared to flood irrigation. It can be used to pass fertiliser and chemicals to plants, with drip irrigation, 30% of fertiliser can be saved.

Drip irrigation has shown to increase yield by up to 30%, in some cases up to 200% if combined with fertigation and chemigation.

The efficiency of drip irrigation can be compared to that of water drips used by medical doctors. A medical doctor will prefer to pass water to the veins of a dehydrated person instead of pouring water on his head. The veins are like the roots of the plants. Plants use water more efficiently through their veins than when you pour water on their leaves. Pouring water on the leaves of the plants also encourages fungal diseases and insects infestation.

Labour efficiency using drip irrigation is great. Imagine that you have to side dress urea fertiliser to your one hectare of tomato plants; you will need several labourers to do this with the attendant cost. With drip irrigation and venture injector, you can mix the urea fertiliser in water and pass it through the drip irrigation system. The system drops the fertiliser to the base of every tomato plant. This is just plug and play.

The excuse that drip irrigation is expensive is unfounded; you can now get cheap drip irrigation system in Nigeria. Using drip irrigation is very beneficial and if you cultivate your tomatoes in the right way, you can recoup the cost of your drip irrigation system within a season.

Nursery

You will need to create a nursery for your tomato seedlings. Using seeds tray with a sterile substrate is the best, though soil based nursery has been successful for years. With a nursery tray and a sterile substrate like coco coir, you are sure that you are starting your nursery on a clean note.

Just put the seeds in the nursery tray, wet every day and use light nutrients. A shade must be provided for the nursery. Shade nets are the best, you may also use palm fronds.

Fertiliser/Humate/Manure Selection

One of the greatest mistakes of tomato farmers in Nigeria is to blindly rely on NPK and urea alone. There are several types of fertilisers. You should apply fertilisers according to the result of your soil test. Types of fertilisers used for tomato farming include Mono Ammonium Phosphate, Potassium Nitrate, Calcium Nitrate, Chelates, Potassium Sulfate and foliar fertiliser etc.

Humates can be used to repair the soil and to make fertilisers more effective. Humates like humic acid and fluvic acid are important natural fertilisers that can do wonder to your tomato plants.

Fluvic Acid can be used to decontaminate your soil. It has been shown that high doses of fluvic acid can resolve nematode problem in your soil.

Manure should be used to improve your soil. Well aged chicken manure are very potent to increase the cation exchange capacity and nutrients of the soil.

Some innoculants containing beneficial microbes are also very good to improve the soil. They are capable of competing and killing the bad microbes in the soil. Some beneficial microbes can attach to the roots of the plants, increase the root mass by 100 times. Large roots will extract more water and nutrients from the soil; this will lead to increase in yield.

Some of the beneficial microbes are sold in Nigeria; they can also break up the soil, aerate the soil and allow more oxygen to get to the roots of the plants.

If you are using drip irrigation, the fertilisers, bio-fertilisers and humates can be passed to the crops through the drip irrigation system.

Pesticides Selection

Should i use pure organic pesticides or inorganic pesticides? Both have their own advantages and disadvantages.

You need pesticides to kill harmful pests and prevent or cure diseases. If you decide to be organic, you may use neem oil, black soap, fermented cow urine and ghost pepper mixed with water to spray your tomato plants, this can help to prevent diseases, it can also kill harmful pests.

Bio-pesticides containing antagonistic microbes can be used to kill harmful insects and prevent fungal and other diseases. These microbes take over the surfaces of leaves and stem, in this process they prevent the ability of harmful microbes to live on the plants. Some of the microbes in the bio-pesticides can also poison and kill harmful insects and pests.

You should ensure that those who will spray the crops with pesticides must do so effectively and efficiently, the pesticides solution must tough all the parts of the tomato plants. You may use Knapsack sprayer or motorised sprayer.

Staking

Depending on the variety of tomatoes you plant, you may need to stake the plants. Staking improves aeration and it prevents spoilage of tomato fruits. When tomato fruits touch the soil, they may get rotten.

Indeterminate tomatoes grow so tall and they set fruit till they die off. Indeterminate tomatoes can grow up to 10 feet; they are mostly planted in greenhouses and polytunnels. You have to prune indeterminate tomato plants intermittently for optimum production.

Semi-indeterminate tomatoes are similar to indeterminate tomatoes; they grow very tall too but not as tall as indeterminate tomatoes. Both indeterminate and semi-indeterminate tomatoes need staking.

Determinate tomatoes or bushy tomatoes are varieties that grow short, they do not need staking, they set their fruits within a short time and they can be harvested for a very short time.

Marketing of produce

Before planting, you must devise a way to market the fresh tomatoes when harvested. Do you want to sell in the organised market like Shoprite or hotels? Do you want to sell in the unorganised market like Mile 12 market Lagos, Aba local market or any other open roof market around you?

If you want to sell in the organised market, you must produce all year around and harvest almost every week, in this case, you need to practise succession planting. In the organised market, the price of your produce will be pre-agreed and it will be the same price over a specified period of time say 12 months. You may agree that you will sell your kilo of fresh tomatoes at N400. The advantage of this is that your cashflow can be predicted.

In the unorganised market, the prices of tomatoes are not stable, you cannot sell by weight. You will rather sell in baskets. There are several types of these cane baskets. A 60kg basket full of fresh tomatoes that can sell for N5,000 today may sell for N25,000 next month. The prices are somewhat volatile, though seasoned tomato farmers know the prices to expect at any point in time.

The timing of your harvested tomato produce is also very important especially if you are selling in the unorganised market. There are peak and off-peak tomato season in Nigeria, this trend has been established for over 50 years and it has not been broken.

There are times; tomatoes are extremely cheap and there seasons that prices of tomatoes can increase by over 200%.

Tomato Processing in Nigeria/Outgrowers’ Scheme – Opportunities for Investors

About 98% of the semi-finished tomato paste used to produce processed tomato paste in Nigeria is imported. Most tomato processing plants in Nigeria simply package imported tomato paste. Nigerian farmers do not benefit from this business.

There are very few tomato processors who use fresh tomatoes for production of their tomato paste in Nigeria. Dangote Tomato has not really started, ditto Tomato Jos. The inability to set up tomato outgrower scheme still remains the major reason why most tomato processors have not been successful.

There is still a huge opportunity for any investor who intends to produce tomato paste from fresh tomatoes in Nigeria. The Federal Government has already placed an import barrier in the form of tariff on imported tomatoes derivatives. This is a positive for any would be investor in the sector.

Setting up outgowers scheme for tomatoes will go a long way in making the processing of fresh tomatoes to paste a reality in Nigeria.

Outgrowers schemes have been very successful in maize, cassava and soybeans processing. With inputs supplied to farmers on credit, farmers will be able to increase acreage of land under cultivation.

Diseases of tomato plants

Late Blight

This is a tomato disease caused by an oomycete, it has been wrongly said that this disease is caused by a type of fungus. Oomycetes are not true fungi, they are different and the curative strategy for oomycetes is a bit different.

Late blight is caused by Phytophthora infestans. The symptoms of late blight presents as irregular brown spots on tomato fruits, the fruits may later become rotten. Tomato late blight disease is prevalent during the cool and rainy season.

Good and consistent spraying of fungicide will help in preventing and controlling this disease. You may either use organic or inorganic fungicide.

Early Blight

This disease leaves brown or black spots on the dark edges of the lower leaves of a tomato plant. The stems can also have spots. This disease mostly appears when the tomato plants start setting fruits.

Mosaic Virus

Mosaic virus is transmitted by insects and beetles. Once your tomato plants get infected, the leaves may become yellow and rough or papery in texture. Tobacco smokers can also act as an agent of transfer of this disease on your tomato farm.

To prevent this disease, you should control insects, also make sure that no tobacco user works in your farm. If you suspect that any tomato plant is affected with mosaic virus, uproot the plant and bury or burn far away from your farm.

There are several tomato varieties resistant to this disease.

Bacterial Wilt

This is a disease that starts from the soil. Once your soil is infected with the disease, if you plant a tomato variety without resistance to the disease, then your plants stand a chance of getting the disease.

The symptoms appear as a sudden wilting and death of the tomato plants. Plants may wilt in a sunny afternoon and within hours they may die. The disease affects the vascular system of the tomato plants; it prevents the passing of water and nutrients to the key parts and tissues of the tomato plant.

To know if your tomato plant has bacterial wilt, cut the stem and put the cut stem in clear water in a transparent glass cup. If a creamy or white substance oozes out of the cut stem, then you can assume that the plant is infected with bacterial wilt.

To bacterial wilt, ensure that you solarise your soil so that the organism causing the disease dies. Also, ensure that your tomato plants do not have any injury or cut that will make the disease enter the plants easily.

Some parts of Nigeria have higher incidences of bacteria wilt than others.

Tuta Absoluta

This is a type of moth that can ravage and destroy hectares of tomato farms within days. This leaf miner can lead to 100% loss of yield.

Tuta Absoluta affects the leaves and fruits. The pest makes the fruits unmarketable. There are good pesticides that can be used to prevent and tackle the disease.

Tomato Plant Disease Resistance Codes

V             Verticillium wilt
F              Fusarium wilt
F              Fusarium wilt races 1 and 2
FFF           Fusarium wilt races 1, 2, and 3
N              Nematodes
A              Alternaria alternata (stem canker or early blight)
T              Tobacco mosaic virus
St            Stemphylium (gray leaf spot)
TSWV       Tomato spotted wilt virus

Precision tools for Tomato Farming

Questions and Answers

Question: Where can i get good tomato seeds in Nigeria?

Answer: You can get good tomato seeds from Veggie Grow Limited

Question: Where can i get drip irrigation system in Nigeria?

Answer: You can get drip irrigation system from this company

Question: Can i make profit farming tomatoes in Nigeria?

Answer: Yes, you can make huge profit from tomato farming in Nigeria; there are farmers who make several millions of naira preseason.

Question: When does the price of tomatoes peak in Nigeria?

Answer: The prices of tomatoes peak around April to July every year. A 50kg basket of tomatoes can go for N25,000 – N30,000 this period while in other times, the price of same basket can go for N7,000.

Question: What is the typical yield of tomatoes?

Answer: This is a tricky question. Your tomato yield depends on factors like soil fertility, agronomic practice, weather, disease infestation and irrigation etc. If everything goes as planned, you can expect to get 15-30 tonnes per acre of hybrid tomatoes. You may also get zero yield if you do not follow the necessary agronomic protocols.

Question: Are fertilisers in Nigeria sub-standard?

Answer: Though this is hardly reported, a significant percentage of fertilisers sold in Nigeria are sub-standard, some are also re-bagged. You should buy your fertiliser from reputable dealers.

Tomato farming is one of the most profitable ventures anybody can do, just make sure you do it right.

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About the author

Ayo Akinfolarin


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