Business

‘Why shortage of tomato may persist

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For those waiting for the price of tomato to fall very soon, they may need to wait a little while, in the face of the current prevailing variables, as farmers have foreclosed any immediate solution to this crisis. The Guardian learnt from farmers, that the end to the current scarcity of the vegetable is beyond their powers, as several factors responsible for the current debacle is outside their control.

In the last few weeks, tomato, considered as one of major ingredients for cooking, had practically gone beyond the reach of many Nigerians, as the scarcity jerked up the price of the produce.

The situation further aggravated the supply gap previously created by the outbreak of Ebola on tomato farms in the North, pushing up the inflation in the country.

Some market analysts said the current situation is the worst in recent times, as tomato price surged to over 200 percent. In Lagos, two piece of the produce were sold for as high as N500 in some markets, while the least price was pegged at N1,000 in some areas.

A basket of tomato sold at the rate of N40,000 in May in Lagos went a record high of N150,000 during the Sallah period. Lower-quality tomatoes, damaged in transit, previously sold for N30,000, went as high as N100,000.

The Chief Executive Officer, Oreka Farms Limited, Ogun State, Ruth Suberu, who identified cost of inputs and insecurity as major causes of the shortage, said: “I cannot say when this current tomato shortage will end. Aside the high cost of inputs and insecurity, climate change is another issue.

“Then, when it is rainy season like this, there are tendencies that a lot of tomatoes will get rotten at harvest. There are lots of factors causing this issue.”

It was gathered that in some areas in the North, where the bulk of the vegetables are produced, the rain has wreaked havoc on the farms and the farmers have shifted to cultivation of rice, pending the period when the rainy season ends, before they can embark on the planting of tomatoes.

A farmer in Jega area of Kebbi State, Mallam Mohammad Jega, identifies insecurity; high cost of inputs – fertilisers, herbicides and cost of labour; climate change and pest invasion as major challenges causing the current tomato scarcity.

“The current economic situation has really affected a large chunk of the farmers and they can hardly afford the cost of inputs. For instance, a 50kg bag of fertiliser, which we usually buy for N9, 000 has increased to between N35,000 and N40,000. Cost of herbicides too has not fared better.

“The impact of the tomato ebola, (Tuta Absoluta), which was massive this year also added to the problem. For some farmers, it was total destruction as they couldn’t salvage anything from their farms. Even, those who succeeded in salvaging any, they still ran into serious debts.

“Let us also remember that in some states where insecurity festers, majority of the farmers have abandoned their farms and no longer cultivate anything. With the situation at hand, though the shortages might subside, but nobody can give a definite time when things will return to normal,” Jega said.

On her part, the co-founder and CEO of Tomato Jos, Mira Mehta, said tomato prices may likely come down a little towards the month of August, adding that the impact of inflation is real and long-lasting.

Mehta, who attributed the sharp rise in the prices of the produce to seasonality and hike in transportation costs, in an X (formerly Twitter), said constant rainfall has reduced the availability of tomatoes as the crop does not thrive during the wet season, noting also that the cost of moving the fresh vegetable from the North to other parts of the country is quite high.

She attributed the high transportation cost to poor road networks across the country, forcing trucks to move slower during the period. “In Nigeria, during the rainy season, it is hard to grow open-field tomatoes. Every year in June, the prices go up.

“Costs of moving tomatoes from North to South have a seasonality element. During rainy seasons trucks move at a slower pace and are more expensive, and high humidity does more damage to the fruits in transit,” she added.

Continuing, Mehta added: “It’ll come down a little bit towards the end of the summer. If you live in Lagos, by August, you’ll start to see fresh tomatoes coming out of Kwara State. There’s a group of farmers there who actually do the hard work of rainy season open-farm tomato cultivation.”

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