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Agony, frustration trail soaring tomato prices, scarcity

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Wsj
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Agony, frustration trail soaring tomato prices, scarcity

Unread postby Wsj » Wed Jun 08, 2016 7:04 am

Tomato has suddenly disappeared from the market. No thanks to the seasonal scarcity and a sudden outbreak of Tuta absoluta, a pest that has devastated in major producing states in the north devastated. Consumers are agonising that prices have gone up by about 200 per cent. DANIEL ESSIET reports that stakeholders are working round the clock to address the crisis.

The Managing Director, Yomart World of Event, an outdoor catering/events management outfit, Mr. Martins Oriyomi, is faced with a tough choice. The price of fresh tomatoes, which he prefers for preparing dishes for his clients, has, in recent times, gone up.

The development has left him with two options – to hike prices of his dishes and risk losing customers or switch to other substitutes such as canned tomato paste and dry pepper and lose the exquisite taste that has been his selling point.

Oriyomi has been in this dilemma since February when tomato, a vegetable crop became scarce, forcing about 200 per cent increase in the price of the popular edible.

The supply shortfall has been blamed on a number of factors including prolonged warm weather in major tomato-producing areas in the North; insecurity triggered by Boko Haram insurgency and pest attacks.

For instance, a season of poor rainfall in 2015 and 2016 has not been good for tomato farmers. It has forced farmers to reduce their farmlands. The farmers, who used to grow the vegetable in about five acres, have been using about an acre to water shortage.

Perhaps, worsening matters, most of the farmlands in Kano, Jigawa, Plateau, Katsina and Kaduna state are said to have been wiped out by a virulent pest, known as ‘Tuta Absoluta,’ which killed all the tomato species there.

Tomato farms at the Kadawa Irrigation Valley, the major producing area and demonstration farms designed to feed the Dangote’s Dansa Tomato Company in Kano State, has been destroyed by the virus.

Apart from the fact that the unrest in the tomato-growing states in the Northeast has adversely affected farmers’ ability to plant and harvest, the fuel price hike also contributed to the scarcity. And the result is soaring price of tomato with four pieces going for as high as N200.

Consequently, Oriyomi has since ordered his chefs to use dry tomatoes and other substitutes since the outfit cannot risk the introduction of an increase in the prices of its menu.

For now, he relies on his culinary experience to mix dry tomato with other condiments to give his dishes a flavor appealing to patrons.

Oriyomi is not alone in his agony, over the sudden scarcity of tomato and the subsequent increase in prices. The situation has also left sour taste in the mouth of Mr. Abia Onyekaozuru, a food stuff seller.

Frustrated by the development, Onyekaozuru switched to other substitutes such as tomato paste, canned and sachet of tomato, which now enjoy increased patronage than fresh tomato. But, it has also been a tough choice.

He told The Nation, that the increased patronage of such substitutes has affected their prices, pointing out that the e price of a sachet of tomato paste has risen from N50 to N80.

Also lamenting, a tomato dealer in Daleko Market, Lagos, told The Nation that from the usual price of between N5, 000 and N6, 000, a basket of tomatoes has gone up between N25, 000 and N30, 000.

The dealer, who pleaded for anonymity, said the increase in prices has taken a huge toll on many businesses in the food industry. Not a few tomato sellers have diversified temporarily because the end-users of their wares have found alternatives.

Housewives and restaurateurs are no less hit by the sudden scarcity and price increase. The unique taste of fresh tomatoes that has been a regular condiment on most tables has since disappeared as most families can hardly afford the high cost of the juicy and red edible.

“The price of tomatoes is very high. This is despite the fact that tomato is grown in Nigeria. This is unfortunate and regrettable,” Mrs. Blessing Adokwu, a housewife, lamented.

Mrs. Adokwu added that as a result, prices of other items like beans, carrots, cucumber and other greens have risen marginally.

She urged the government to wade into the situation and ensure that tomato vendors do not cash in on the situation to exploit and extort consumers.

The vendor said the government’s intervention has become necessary because there appears to be no respite in sight in a short while.

Her fears have been fuelled by speculations in some quarters that the sudden scarcity of tomatoes was caused by the establishment of a tomato processing plants

For instance, citing supply shortage as a reason for the rising cost, Mrs. Grace Umoh, a businesswoman, said: “Due to the establishment of a processing factory in Kano, we are told there has been less output and that has resulted in the steep rise in cost of the product.”

There is the fear that promoters of tomato processing plants may have mopped up available stock in the farms to feed their factory and encourage the patronage of processed tomato puree.

Mrs. Umoh, who appears to harbour such fear, insists that the situation will not ameliorate until the regularisation of the distortion in supply.

She said although farmers in the Southwest are making efforts to grow tomatoes with the advent of rains, tomatoes from the region do not enjoy acceptability. They are believed to be watery and go sour quickly than those grown in the North.

Enter ‘Tomato Ebola’

To the Minister of Agriculture & Rural Development, Chief Audu Ogbeh, the tomato scarcity and the attendant price hike arose from attacks from a pest (tuta absoluta). He said the pest, which was discovered in South America in 1912, where it ravaged many farms before it spread to Europe and then to Asia, has now entered East and WestAfrica.According to him, the pest found its way into Nigeria from Niger Republic, manifesting a powerful infestation that could make it impossible for local cultivation, if not dealt with.

Already, the pest, which was responsible for the massive destruction of tomato in farmlands, has invaded six tomato-producing states.

The states confirmed by the Federal Government confirmed to have been hit by Tuta absoluta, commonly referred to as ‘Tomato Ebola’ are: Jigawa, Kano, Katsina, Kaduna, Plateau and Lagos.

The fact that tomatoes are the most used vegetable in the country makes the rampaging pest a disturbing development.

Chief Ogbeh, who spoke at a press briefing in Abuja, however, described as erroneous claims that the processing plants have mopped-up tomatoes in country.

He said the highly reproductive nature of the pest and lack of management skills for its containment resulted to its spread.

Ogbeh, however, said the Federal Government had started consulting with the affected states and experts to seek measures to tackle the pest.

He said: “The pest can also attack even pepper and Irish potato. So, we are confronting something quite serious. But the good thing is that we are tackling it right now as experts will commence work immediately.

“We are bringing the commissioners and state governors to jointly attack this pest, which if not dealt with, will create serious problems for food security in our country.”

The minister added that Nigeria spends N80 billion ($400 million) annually on the importation of tomato paste, most of which are highly substandard. He said experts had already offered other varieties of tomato that grow well in the western part of the country as alternatives to the existing genre.

Ogbeh said: “We have called in experts and we have studied the profile of what we have to do with the pest. Unfortunately, ordinary pesticides cannot deal with this ‘tuta absoluta’ because it has a way of multiplying so fast. It produces almost 250 offspring per cycle.

“We are in contact with a group which had dealt with this in other countries and they are offering us solutions. In the next few days we shall get to work on this and begin treatment. It is going to be quite expensive as it will cost about five naira per tomato plant.”

Prices soar, consumers’ groan

The disease is digging a hole in the pockets of consumers. Ogbeh admitted this much when he said the price of tomatoes had gone so high that a basket now sold for between N35, 000 and N42, 000 in Lagos.

Experts have called for more synergy among stakeholders in the tomato value chain. These include government agencies, research institutes and universities; entrepreneurs, Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) and farmers.

Such calls may have been fuelled by fears that the rising prices may linger throughout the year if there are no initiatives in the areas of production, monitoring and implementation of workable policies, with the involvement of corporate farmers in cultivation and processing.

Tomato processing firms also hit

The Nation learnt that tomato farms at the Kadawa

Irrigation Valley, which is the major producing area and demonstration farms designed to feed the Dangote’s Dansa Tomato Company in Kano State, has been ravaged by the pest.

Consequently, the processing factory has suspended production, attributing it to disease attack on their major raw material.

Its Managing Director, Alhaji Abdulkadir Kaita, said the company, which began production in February, suspended production for dearth of raw materials.

Most of the plants in Kano, Jigawa, Plateau, Katsina and Kaduna state where the company hopes to source its raw materials have been affected by the pest. This made the price of the perishable commodity to go up.

Alhaji Kaita, however, said production would commence during the next irrigation season, emphasising that the company has capacity to process 120 tonnes of fresh tomatoes daily.

Insurgents not helping matter

With the attention focused on the government and experts to halt the rampaging virus, activities of the dreaded Boko Haram sect, according to the Minister ofInformation & Culture, Lai Mohammed, are also aiding scarcity.

Last week, the minister put the blame on the doorstep of the insurgents, who he said, forced farmers to quit the Northeast due to the level of insecurity in the region.

His word: “People talk about the price of tomato, but they forget one thing; they forget that the price of tomato today is a direct result of the fact that we have lost two years harvest to Boko Haram insurgency.

“Most of the people you see riding Okada (motorcycles) in Lagos are people who would have been in the farm to produce consumable items. Do you farm where there is war?”

Besides losing two harvest seasons in the Northeast, the nation had very poor rainfall last year and early this year. “Go and ask economists and agriculturists, they will tell you,” he said.

Kaduna State Governor Mallam Nasir El-Rufai, said 80 per cent of the tomato produced in his state had been ravaged by pests and diseases. He has declared a state of emergency in tomato production in the state, saying that all hands must be on deck to combat the various pests and diseases ravaging tomato.

According to El-Rufai, tomato has been destroyed in three local government areas of the state, resulting to monthly revenue loss of about N1b and affecting more than 200 farmers.

“In the past one month, 12 tomato-producing local government areas have lost 80 per cent of their harvest. In three council, about 200 farmers have lost N1 billion worth of tomato. This is as a result of the invasion of Tuta Absoluta. So, you can imagine the magnitude of the loss,” the governor said.

El-Rufai, who spoke through his Commissioner for Agriculture, Dr. Manzo Maigari, however said some officials of the state ministry of agriculture had been sent to Kenya to learn how to combat the menace.

He added that the problem was so severe that even Dangote Group, which has established a tomato processing plant in Kano, had to shut down production.

The governor said: “The problem with the disease, which is caused by a moth, is that no amount of spraying will kill its larva. You spray it, after about three hours, it comes back to life. So, we have sent some of our officials to travel to Kenya and meet our partners. Kenya has a good advantage over us on this issue.

“We understand that they use a plant extract to take care of this problem. But we do not have that knowledge yet. We expect them to return very soon with short and medium-term solutions.”

What experts say

Experts in the agricultural sector say that there are diverse causes for the current tomato scarcity. A crop protection specialist, Prof. Daniel Gwary, identified inclement weather as one of the factors. He said tomato farmers need the rains, which has been everything but sufficient.

The President, Tomato Processors Association of Nigeria, Prince Samuel Joseph Samuel, explained that there are one or more diseases associated with any crop, with the disease occurring every year.

According to him, the management of the disease or pest is what matters, adding that the tragedy is that they (the pest or disease) strike when they are least expected to do so.

Samuel said: “Basically, what we have had over the years has revealed the need for industry collaboration; stakeholders need to come together and work together so that we can pull resources to fight these diseases.

“Some of these diseases require prompt action. If we don’t have local capacities for vaccines and chemicals to tackle these diseases instantly, we are going to be facing the challenge every time.”

Samuel, who is also Chairman and Chief Executive, Vegefresh Group, told The Nation that Tuta Absoluta is not a disease that is common only to tomatoes.

He said: “It is also not the first time we are having it in Nigeria. What we need to understand differently is that tomato is a seasonal produce and rain fed tomato is 70 to 80 per cent grown in the Northern part of Nigeria.

“We are not saying that other parts of the country such as Ogun State cannot grow tomatoes. Currently, where we grow tomato heavily are those areas that are well developed to support massive cultivation. They have been growing tomatoes over the years,” he explained.

Stating that tomato scarcity has become an every year affair, the expert added that apart from the ravaging disease, the inflation across the value chain has also affected supply.

He said: “You have the fuel pump price increase; the devaluation of the naira that has increased the cost of transportation and other services that are rendered. Now, we will naturally have apart from the disease inflationary challenges.

“All these factors put together is affecting the current price of tomatoes. But if I rate it, I think inflation has more impact on the price of tomatoes than other factors.”

Credit:TheNation


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Re: Agony, frustration trail soaring tomato prices, scarcity

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Re: Agony, frustration trail soaring tomato prices, scarcity

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