By Olandason Wanyama
Today, the world is awash with several varieties of tomatoes in the market; heirloom, moneymaker, Marglobe, Rio Grande, heinz and new fortune maker F1, to mention a few.
However, all these variations owe their existence to wild tomatoes that have existed for centuries in the ancient world.
They are sown by birds and human beings in the bushes without following the modern agronomic practices since the tomatoes are extremely adaptable, surviving in a harsh semi-arid or arid desert, the likeness of Karamoja conditions.
Locally known as, ‘lolarin’ in the Karimojong dialect, the half-inch-sized red or yellow mature tomatoes grow in abandoned homesteads and the kraals. Other areas include the wilderness and the rocks in the mountainous areas of the sub-region. Others persist in humid, rain-filled lowlands and chilly isolated heights.
Housewives in most villages that lie along the slopes of Mt Moroto say the tomatoes are a delicacy in most family kitchens. They are affordable and easily accessible for the poor households living in the sub-region.
Clementina Lotyang, a housewife and resident of Nadorini village, Katikeikile sub-county, Moroto district, acknowledges the tomatoes because of the way they climb the abandoned settlements or Manyattas’ wood fences.
She said the tomatoes are picked from the wild and squeezed into the steaming green vegetables. This adds lots of flavour to the soup.
“Sometimes we fry the tomatoes with cooking oil into soup, add red pepper and enjoy with posho,” she said, adding that they supplement income at home.
Lotyang added that whenever the season arrives, women and their children spend most of the time in the wilderness hand-picking the cherries for consumption or for commercial purposes.
Hellen Nakiru, another housewife from Nadukon village, in the same sub-county, also said at the peak of their season, women pick them, squeeze the seeds out and then dry the pulp.
She added that during scarcity, “one picks the stuff and prepares source for the family.”
Caroline Achuka said the tomatoes are sold cheaply because few people understand them.
“A cup worth half-a kilogramme goes for sh500 for wholesale,” she said, adding that in turn, the vendors also sell the same quantity at sh1,000.
However, Achuka said on Mt Moroto, a cup is even sold at sh200 or sh300 depending on the yield in the wilderness.
She added that most people who have grown up in the villages understand these tomatoes and they will always long for them. But they are not so good given the sour taste they present in the mouths as someone eats them.
The agricultural officer of Rupa sub-county, Paul Omunuk Obore, said the tomatoes, described as “solanum pimpinellifolenium” or weirdly “pimp”, are the ancestors of all tomatoes.
He said they have high nutritional value because they are organic in nature.
“Most women who collect firewood, herders and low income earners like charcoal burners survive on these tomatoes,” he added, noting that wild tomatoes have high survival skills compared to the modern ones that are more susceptible to diseases.
However, he said in some regions, due to enormous human activity, these tomatoes are becoming uncommon and soon, they could be endangered.
The vining wild tomatoes grow up to the height of two metres or more, carrying hundreds of tiny fruits that keep on ripening each day or hour as they clock maturity.