Fresh tomatoes which used to be a common sight in Nigerian markets, and eaten in almost every home, raw or cooked, has become a rarity with over 400% hike in price. Ruth Tene Natsa’s reveals why.
Tomatoes constitute 18 per cent of all vegetables consumed by Nigeria’s 180 million populace, according to a research by the Agricultural Economics Department of the University of Ibadan, Oyo State.
Also, Nigeria’s domestic demand for tomatoes is put at 2.3 million tonnes while it produces only 1.8 million tonnes annually, according to the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (FMARD), and this shortfall is further worsened by the recent hike in the price of tomatoes.
The acute shortage has been blamed on the resurgence of the ravaging Tuta Absoluta, a very harmful leaf mining moth (also known as the tomato leaf miner) said to cause 50-100% yield reduction on tomato crops, destroying an estimated 40 per cent of anticipated harvest, causing prices to shoot up by over 400 per cent and limiting the export of the product to several destinations.
The moth, which travels and breeds in swarms, has a reputation for swiftly ravaging tomato cultivation. Unfortunately, the disease is said to have spread across tomato farmlands in the North of Nigeria, including areas in and around Makarfi, Hunkuyi, Soba and Zuntu villages in Kaduna State, Danja, Katsina State, and Kadawa, Dakasoye and Kura villages in Kano State.
This has caused consumers of fresh tomatoes to switch to tin or processed tomatoes. LEADERSHIP findings revealed that baskets which sold for as low as 3,000 now sell for as high as 12,000 to 25,000 when available in the first place, and that sellers and marketers in the Federal Capital Territory who get their supplies from the north have also switched to buying from neighbouring countries at higher prices while many others have totally stopped purchasing the product which has become scarce and unaffordable.
The findings further revealed that the disease, which farmers also refer to as ‘Tomato Ebola,’ has drastically reduced the availability of locally fresh tomatoes, forcing consumers to buy canned purees/pastes which are relatively cheaper, and that consumers have also swiftly found alternatives to the use of tomatoes in their meals as attested to by a housewife, Mrs Ukachi.
“I was shocked when a smaller and eye unfriendly version of the smaller portion of tomatoes I buy for N80 was presented to me for N400. I didn’t even bother to complain, I just bought lots of large pepper (tatashe) and blended with fresh pepper, added a tin of medium size tin tomatoes and cooked my pot of stew. As hard as the economy is right now, I will not let tomatoes to add to my problems,” she concluded.
For a resident of Kaduna, Mrs Blessing Jatau, “I bought a basket of tomatoes in December for less than N1,000 but was shocked when I went to buy a similar basket in February and was told the same basket was about N10,000. I thought it was a joke, but after trying in three places I knew the situation was real, since then I have switched to tin tomatoes.”
LEADERSHIP visit to Dutse market, Abuja, revealed that the tomatoes scarcity is worse than it seems as many have switched from fresh tomatoes to processed tins while sellers have also lamented the scarcity. A vegetable seller in Dutse Alhaji market, Mallam Jatau, said, “I use to get my supplies from Kano and Kaduna but of recent, I have learnt that the Dangote Tomatoes factory in Kano is consuming all the produce from the immediate communities while the Ebola tomatoes is destroying what little they are able to produce.”