Quality is king, says tomato farmer, Jimmy Manjanja, of JM Farming Enterprize in Mwembeshi, west of Lusaka. On his farm, about 40 km from the capital, he has learned to produce top quality tomatoes all year round with precious little water. Jasper Raats visited Jimmy.
Every 6 to 8 weeks Jimmy plants a block of between 2.5 ha to 3 ha of tomatoes. In total he plants about 18 ha each year with an average yield of 150 tons per ha. Through careful soil moisture management he has managed to sustain this yield throughout the past four years of below average rainfall.
All his produce is sold on the open market in Lusaka. “We send at least one load a day to the market and on some days we have to contract in extra trucks to transport our produce.” Jimmy owns a five ton truck for his daily deliveries to the market.
The cultivars he plants depends on the availability from the seedling suppliers. Jimmy prefers tomato plants that can be led up quite high and that keep cropping for as long as possible.
He buys his seedlings from Mayo Agro Seedlings and Sunshine Seedlings. Under good conditions his blocks keep cropping for up to eight months with some plants yielding up to 18 kg’s of fruit per single plant, but his average yield is 7,5 kg’s per plant at a plant density of 20 000 plants per hectare.
Jimmy covers the plant beds with hay to protect soil moisture and he tries to always trelis up at least three leaders for each plant. “It offers more folliage that helps to hide ripe, red tomatoes from birds.”
He uses poles he buys from nearby vilages for his trellising, but hopes to soon harvest his own poles from the 10 000 gum trees he recently planted.
ONIONS PERFORM WELL
As with tomatoes, onions flourish in the Lusaka Province. Jimmy harvests an average of 60 tons of onions per ha on the six to eight hectare he plants every year. He plants his onions with a tractor drawn seed driller.
He irrigates the onions from a borehole using sprayers while the tomatoes are irrigated with drip irrigation. He uses drip lines with a flow of 1.6 l/h dripping point . His concern is that most boreholes on his farm are low yielding and that they might end up drilling 30 boreholes to try and meet the irrigation requirements for the tomatoes. With the drought experienced in the recent years, the water output per borehole keeps reducing.
He uses his drip lines for fertiliser application once the crop is planted, and continue this right through its life cycle.
MAIZE FOR BONUS
Jimmy doesn’t sell himself as a maize farmer, but says in Zambia maize is just too valuable a cash crop to ignore. Each year, before the rains, he plants about 25ha of maize on his dry lands and realises an average yield of 6,5 tons per ha.
For planting he uses a small two-row planter and he harvests by hand and sells his maize directly to Simba Milling, a local miller.
‘You have to love what you do’
GOOD SOIL PREPARATION
Jimmy believes in proper soil preparation before planting anything and uses his tractor to plough, dish and rake his fields before planting. In the preparation phase he prefers to use more manure than fertiliser.
He buys manure from surrounding livestock farmers. He also believes in green manure and for crop rotation plants resting fields to Sunn Hemp, a legume that helps in fixing the soil nitrogen and and organic matter, and thereby improving the soil structure.
Jimmy plants about 8 ha of Sunn Hemp per year and at the end of the season ploughs it back into the resting fields to become compost and feed the next crop.
Fertilizer, however, remains an integral part of his budget and Jimmy says it will always be a necessity for optimal yields of top quality fruits and vegetables. He calculates the nutrient needs of his crops on a weekly basis and supply fertilizer accordingly through the driplines on his tomatoes.
“In the rainy season we choose days on which it doesn’t rain to apply fertilizer in order to minimise nutrients simply leaching away.”
PEST AND WEED CONTROL
Zambia has no shortage of insects and pests. Jimmy believes the best way to prevent catastrophic infestations is to be in your fields every day so that one can identify problems when they crop up and treat them immediately.
He spotted the first Tuta absoluta leaf borers in his tomatoes in February last year, but through pro-active management of this pest, he has managed to keep it under control.
He believes in breaking the breeding cycles of such pests through insecticides and in alternating between different products to prevent resistance.
Jimmy says snails can be a real nuisance in the tomato fields. They are drawn by the manure he works into his clay soils. “We remove them by hand. That is why it is so important that someone moves through every field every day and identifies potential problems.”
HIS SECRET TO SUCCESS
“You have to love what you do,” says Jimmy. His love for farming still burns still as strongly in his heart as it did during his childhood when he helped with work on the farm of his father, mr. Samuel Manjanja, not far from where he now farms. He used to drive to and from Makeni every day where he lived to work on the farm, but eventually moved and settled in 2007.
He designed the roads himself, decided when to deforest where and planted his first 11 000 tomato plants despite drilling an almost dry borehole that year. “Because we didn’t have a lot of water, the yield was less than we would have liked, but our quality was good and we pulled through to farm another year.”
That, says Jimmy, is the secret to farming success. “You must have clear goals and not lose sight of them when things go wrong.”