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Tomato, onion farmers decry exploitation by middlemen

A turbo package of tomatoes carries over 150 kg of tomatoes, well beyond the ordinary 60 kg that a flat ordinary wooden box should carry

By Christine Musa

Tomato and Onions farmers in Kajiado are crying foul over what they term as massive exploitation by middlemen, that has seen farmers lose millions of shillings in farm produce every harvest season.

The large -scale farmers from Rombo, Loitokitok — an area that serves as Kajiado’s food basket —say their farming efforts benefit a few individuals who show up as customers.

The farmers, who take advantage of the favourable climate brought about by the nearby Mt. Kilimanjaro, claim they have been losing millions to the unscrupulous brokers, who collude with traders to the disadvantage of local farmers who have no ready market for their produce.

Here, tomatoes are packed into wooden boxes and five more buckets added on top, in what they call “turbo package,” with the farmer earning less than Ksh1,000.

A turbo package of tomatoes carries over 150 kg of tomatoes, well beyond the ordinary 60 kg that a flat ordinary wooden box should carry.

Farmers claim they are being exploited and the county government is also denied much-needed revenue from cess charges.

“In a good season, we harvest up to 20,000 kg of tomatoes per acre. However the cost of nurturing the crop is increasing due to exploitation by brokers working in cahoots with traders to oppress us. We use expensive fertilizers and herbicides, yet traders want to purchase our produce at a throwaway price. Traders throng farms and take advantage of illiterate farmers by packaging excess tomatoes,’’ said John Memusi.

The farmers claim that due to the lack of a ready market, they have to abide by the traders’ prices despite glaring exploitation, or risk their produce going bad.

“If we can get a tomato sauce production unit in our region, it will save us the ordeal of counting losses all the time during the harvest season. Once tomatoes are ripe, we have no option but to sell at throwaway prices as they cannot last long,’’ said Agnes Saruni, a farmer.

The market for onions is another thorny issue for farmers, who say brokers have introduced extra-large nets to steal from farmers. The brokers are said to buy in bulk from farmers, paying peanuts and then later repackaging the same produce.

“We call on the concerned stakeholders to intervene so as to have standard nets for packaging of onions,” said a farmer.

Some farmers claim their children have dropped out of school due to lack of school fees as the crop they depend on no longer yields profits.

Three years ago, the county assembly of Kajiado passed a law regulating the packaging of farmer produce, but it is yet to be effected.

While meeting the farmers recently after many of them threatened to pull out of farming, Kajiado Governor Joseph ole Lenku directed all enforcement officers manning roadblocks to crack the whip on traders oppressing farmers.

Lenku said his government would protect farmers by all means, issuing a stern warning to county enforcement officers to take charge in safeguarding farmers’ interests by ensuring they oversaw the packaging of farm produce and its passage through roadblocks.

“Anybody who comes between Lenku and farmers’ welfare for their selfish interests will not be spared the wrath of the law. County enforcement officers have to take control and ensure recommended packaging is used. The outcome will be reflected in the amount of cess collected. Those engaged in crooked practices are stealing from farmers and from the county government and must be brought to book,” said the county chief.

Loitokitok in Kajiado South Sub-County is among the largest producers of tomatoes and onions in the country.

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