Tomato is one of the most widely cultivated crops in Kenya and the world. It is an important source of vitamins and an important cash crop for smallholders and medium-scale commercial farmers. Tomatoes contribute to a healthy, well-balanced diet. They are rich in minerals, vitamins, essential amino acids, sugars and dietary fibres. Tomato contains much vitamin B and C, iron and phosphorus. Tomato fruits are consumed fresh in salads or cooked in sauces, soup and meat or fish dishes. They can be processed into purées, juices and ketchup. Canned and dried tomatoes are economically important processed products.
Yellow tomatoes have higher vitamin A content than red tomatoes, but red tomatoes contain lycopene, an anti-oxidant that may contribute to protection against carcinogenic substances.
Three different types of tomato plants can be distinguished:
- Tall or Indeterminate type
- Semi-bush or Semi-indeterminate type
- Bush or Determinate type
The tall and bush types are entirely different kinds of crops.
The tall varieties are the best choice for a long harvest period. They keep growing after flowering. This feature is called indeterminate. However, under tropical conditions, diseases and insect attacks will stop growth. The plants generally have more foliage. This will keep the temperature lower within the crop and the fruits grow in the shade of the leaves. Because they are covered, the sun does not damage the fruits and they ripen more slowly. Slower ripening and a high leaf/fruit ratio improve the taste of the fruits and in particular the sweetness. The tall types have to be staked, caged or trellised.
Short types usually support themselves and need no staking. Under severe weather conditions such as storms, however, staking may be advisable. Determinate types stop growing after flowering. They require less labour, so they are popular for commercial cultivation. They have a relatively concentrated fruit set which lasts only two or three weeks and the fruits ripen much faster than those from indeterminate types.
Advantages of tomato:
- Relatively short duration vegetable crop
- Short or long production period
- Can be grown as an uncovered field crop and in protected cultivation
- Fits easily into different cropping systems
- Has high economic value
- Has high micro-nutrient content
- Fruits can be processed, dried and canned