By Christine Tarayie.
Tomato and onions farmers in Kajiado County are crying foul over massive exploitation by middlemen who buy their produce cheaply, causing them to incur millions of shillings in losses every harvest season.
Large scale tomato and onions farmers in Rombo, Loitoktok, considered the county’s bread basket, are worried that their toil is benefiting a few individuals who come to buy their produce at throw away prices.
The farmers who take advantage of favorable climate in the area near Mount Kilimanjaro said they were losing millions of shillings to the unscrupulous brokers colluding with some traders to keep the prices of their produce low.
“Here, tomatoes are packed into wooden boxes and on top, five more buckets of tomatoes added to make what they call ‘Tarbo package’ an amount that is sold for less than Sh 1,000,” an angry farmer said.
“The Tarbo package of tomatoes carries over 150 kgs of tomatoes compared to the ordinary 60kgs package of the flat ordinary wooden box,” the farmer lamented.
Farmers claim they are being exploited while at the same time, the County Government is denied cess.
“In a good season one acre produces 20,000kgs of tomatoes. However the cost of nurturing the crop is becoming expensive due to exploitation by brokers working in cahoots with traders to oppress us,” said the farmer.
“We use very expensive fertilizers and herbicides yet traders want to purchase our produce at throw away prices. Traders throng farms and take advantage of illiterate farmers,’’ complained John Memusi.
“If we can get a tomato sauce production unit within our region it will save us the ordeal of counting losses all the time during the harvest season. At present once tomatoes are ripe, we have no option but to sell at throw away prices because they are perishable,’’said Agnes Saruni.
The brokers are said to buy onions and tomatoes in bulk quantities and paying peanuts and later repackage the same produce to make a kill.
“We call upon the County Government and other stakeholders to intervene so that we can have standard nets for tomato packaging and onions to end exploitation,” said another farmer.
Some farmers claimed that their children had dropped out of school due to lack of school fees as they could no longer rely on farming to make ends meet.
Three years ago, the Kajiado County Assembly passed a by-law regulating the packaging of farmers produces but the regulation is yet to be effected.
While meeting the farmers recently after majority threatened to abandon farming, citing exploitation, Kajiado Governor Joseph ole Lenku directed all County enforcement officers manning road blocks to crack the whip on traders exploiting local tomato and onion farmers.
“Anybody who comes between Lenku and farmers’ welfare for their selfish interest will not be spared from facing the full force of the by- law. County enforcement officers have to take control and ensure recommended packaging and the outcome will be reflected in cess collected. Those engaged in this crooked practice are stealing from the farmers and the County Government and must be brought to book,” Lenku warned.
Loitoktok in Kajiado South Sub-county is among the largest producer of tomatoes and onions in the country.