In Kenya, many small-scale farmers face huge challenges like drought and disease when they grow tree tomato. The Organic Agriculture Centre of Kenya showed farmers how to use a weed relative to make tree tomato more resistant to drought and diseases.
The Need for a more Diverse Diet
Tree tomato is an important source of vitamins A and C, that many local people lack in their diet. Vitamin C is essential for protecting cells and to enable the absorption of iron from food.
Around 50 million African children have a low intake of vitamins, which puts them at risk of deficiencies. This is considered to be the third biggest public health problem in Africa after HIV/AIDS and Malaria.
Therefore, innovations which enable more people to enjoy a diverse diet can generate a significant a public health benefit.
The Solution: Grafting with Bug Weed
Bugweed is a poisonous relative of tree tomato. It is tolerant to drought, resistant to soil-borne diseases and pests, and has longer, stronger roots than the tree tomato. In the wild, it grows well, where it is found green throughout the year.
The method involves vegetative grafting tree tomato scion on to the rootstock of bugweed. Both plants belong to the Solanaceae plant family, so grafting the two plants is compatible.
The grafting of the two plants improves the stem and root system, as the grafted fruit plant has a stronger anchoring and more extensive root system. Grafting the crop and its wild relative, also improves the hardiness, long-term resistance to diseases and pests and drought tolerance. This means it can help farmers who face increasingly uncertain rainy seasons.
The grafted plants bear improved fruits. The farmers and their families can eat them, or sell them to earn extra money and increase household income. The plants can also be used to provide fodder for livestock.
Case Study: Mr. Mwangi’s Tomato Farm
Mr. Mwangi shows off one plant that has more than 30 fruits in the quarter acre piece he has grown tree tomatoes.
Julius Mwangi Kimani is 50 years old and comes from Kamwario Village in Murang’a County, Kenya.
For several years, Mr. Mwangi grew tea. However, after seeing meagre financial returns, he decided to try some other crops so as to boost his income. Motivated by the success of other farmers, he went head-first into tree tomato farming, armed with very little information.
He cleared about a quarter-acre piece of land and bought 500 seedlings of grafted tree tomatoes. The seedlings had been grafted with bug weed.
“I spent 50,000 KES to plant the 500 seedlings and in less than one year, I had already started earning from my trees. I have tried tea and dairy farming. But I have decided to concentrate more on tree tomatoes because they are cheaper to grow, mature faster than tea and their market is good. On a very bad day, a kilo of tree tomatoes goes for 80 KES.” – Mr. Mwangi
The tree tomatoes, which he supplies to Nairobi and other markets, are now his main source of income. The demand is so high that the buyers even come to collect the fruits from his farm, thereby saving him the stress and cost of having to transport them to the market.
Organic Agriculture Centre of Kenya (OACK)
The Organic Agriculture Centre of Kenya is an NGO, whose mission is to promote sustainable agriculture for development of the vulnerable small-scale farmers in the Eastern Aberdare Agro-Ecosystem. They focus on education, training and income generation through sustainable, organic agriculture.