Jean Marie Kameni turned to farming to save a bit of money while teaching secondary school in his village. He shares his story as he stands among rows of neatly planted tomatoes tied to frames. The frames help the plants grow upwards, rather than along the ground.
Mr. Kameni is focused on becoming an expert on growing tomatoes in western Cameroon. He has experimented with growing techniques that ensure a product free from blemishes and pests—which earns him more in the market.
He explains: “I have used a different crop management technique. In many regions, we don’t have tomatoes. [Or] we let the tomato lie on the ground, which has many drawbacks, since pests eat the fruits.”
The traditional method of planting tomatoes—letting them grow along the ground—also results in many rotting more quickly, particularly during the rainy season. The result, Mr. Kameni says, is dirty tomatoes in the marketplace.
Instead, Mr. Kameni places supports throughout his field. He ties 10 tomato plants to each support, so that the fruits grow a metre off the ground.
Mr. Kameni’s tomato empire has been very fruitful. He can harvest 800 crates of tomatoes from his 800-square-metre field. This earns him four million francs ($6,700 US). His initial investment was 2.5 million francs ($4,200 US).
But the 31-year-old was not an instant success at farming.
He recalls: “After secondary school, because of a lack of resources, I started to teach math, chemistry, and physics at the secondary school in the village…. I was able to save a bit and I bought one hectare of land for cocoa production.”
He faced many challenges with cocoa farming, including fungal diseases. He lost many cocoa pods. He says, “All of these were from the fact that I did not have proper training.”
So Mr. Kameni trained at the local technical school of agriculture in Bafang, and paid for his studies by working his field. When he graduated, he got a good-paying job and managed to save some money.
With savings of one million francs ($1,680 US) from his job, 500,000 francs ($840 US) from his cocoa field, and a loan of one million francs ($1,680 US) from his brother, Mr. Kameni invested 2.5 million francs in his tomato enterprise.
He explains: “I bought a hydraulic pump at 536,000 francs [$900 US], which can pump water up to 1.2 kilometres. I bought pipes, plastic drums, and sprayers. The seeds cost me around 255,000 francs [$430 US]. They are hybrid seeds, resistant to disease. It’s a variety called ‘barnum,’ which has a high yield.”
His investment turned a profit. With a turnover of four million francs ($6,700 US), he was able to pay back his loans—and save enough to rent another three hectares of land.
He adds, “[This year] I bought seeds for around 730,000 francs [$1,230 US]. It’s four times more than what I sowed last time.”
He also employs people to work on his farm, assisting with everything from planting to harvesting. The employees admire the agribusiness Mr. Kameni has built.
Emmanuel Ngaleu works for Mr. Kameni. He says: “He is the man who came to take us out of the darkness, since we did not know that this type of agriculture was possible. We are very happy and we also want to become like him. We are already being trained in the field, and we want to become like him tomorrow.”
To see the video on which this article is based, Cameroon: He wants to become the tomato king, go to: http://en.agribusinesstv.info/Cameroon-He-wants-to-become-the-tomato-king_v86.html
Photo credit: AgribusinessTV