This week #TeamTomatoJos finished watching an amazing series by Roger Thurow, author of The Last Hunger Season: A Year in an African Farm Community on the Brink of Change. A first-hand account of Thurow’s interactions with farmers, the series highlights the struggles faced by smallholders in Africa as they try to navigate the challenges form the start of the growing season right through to harvesting. This remarkable series reminded us of the many encounters we have had with smallholders over the past nine months as we have brought Tomato Jos to life.
After numerous discussions with farmers, #TeamTomatoJos has pulled all their narratives together into one typical experience, represented by Azumi. For those readers who haven’t yet had the opportunity to meet a smallholder farmer face to face, Azumi’s story is representative of a typical day in the life.
Every morning Azumi, 42, wakes at 5am for his daily routine. “Tomatoes are my livelihood, it's what I know," he says, looking across his hectare of tomatoes, "but it's a very tough business.” Azumi has been farming tomatoes in the verdant rolling hills near Keffi in Nigeria for 15 years. The proceeds from the back-breaking work have allowed him to support his family and put his children through school. But hard toil is not always rewarded with hard profit.
From the moment he gets out of bed to the moment he sleeps he does not stop working. Usually he will eat only once a day. "Nothing is certain", he says. "We've had some very bad seasons, and with tomatoes, there are difficulties all along the process."
5.00am: I wake-up early so I can get to my farm and start working before it gets too hot.
6.00am: I set off for the farm after bathing, morning prayers, and breakfast - it takes me 30 minutes to walk there.
6.30am: Once I arrive, I start to work on the farm. I first check the plants for attacks from pests.
7.15am: I find some plants that have some of their leaves eaten. There is a green bug on the leaves I never seen before. I will need to spray chemicals later today.
8.00am: After weeding, the plants need to be watered before it gets too hot. My neighbour is using the pump that we share to bring water up from the river, so I will have to wait. While I am waiting for my turn, I take an empty jerry can with me to the roadside, so that I can buy diesel for the pump. I only buy as much as I need to use for watering. You have to know who are the best people to buy diesel from – some of the roadside sellers mix in other things, so they have more to sell. This is very bad for the pump.
10:00am: When I get back to the farm and my neighbour finishes using the pump, I flood my field, row by row.
12.00pm: I walk to the village to buy some insecticides, for the green bug that I saw. I ask the dealer what is the right toxic to use but he doesn’t which is the one to use. There is much choice and I buy the cheapest. It is in a small bottle but comes with no instructions. The dealer says to just add it to a spray pack full of water and it will work.
2.00pm: I return to the farm and borrow a spray pack from another neighbour, and then I fetch water from the river. I mix the toxic and the water and begin spraying. It is hot now, and the spray pack handle does not work well.
3.30pm: After spraying I leave the pack with my neighbour.
5.30pm: I return to the house. My wife was busy with the children, preparing the food and with the housework. I bathe, and say my evening prayers.
6.30pm: We eat together as a family. My wife has made egusi soup with pounded yam. It is very tasty, and I eat well.
7.30pm: By the time dinner is over and my wife has done the washing, it is getting dark. We have a small generator for light, but we do not use it unless we have to.
9.00pm: Once I have helped put the children to bed I then go to sleep myself. When I think about my life it is good and I thank God. But I pray that my children can grow-up and move to the city to be doctors and not farmers.
#TeamTomatoJos wants to change the lives of smallholder farmers like Azumi with hands-on education, follows up with technical support so that farmers can practice the new techniques that they learn on their own farms. Farmers selected to work with Tomato Jos will receive seeds, fertiliser and other resources on interest-free credit. And Tomato Jos plans to buy their produce at a fair price, acting as a “market maker” for the farmers while at the same time securing the tomatoes we need for our processing plant. By playing the role of educator, supplier, and buyer, we can help farmers like Azumi to increase their tomato yields from 7 metric tonnes to 35, or even more. We want to help farmers become expert tomato growers, and we believe that our system will enable them to earn up to $5,000 in a single harvest. Once the rainy season ends here in Nigeria, we’ll be able to put our model to the test! #FarmersFirst