Many households and restaurants across the country are now resorting to tomato pastes and other available alternatives for their cooking as the price of fresh tomatoes has gone beyond the reach of many Nigerians, Daily Trust reports.

A market survey conducted in major cities across the country showed that the price of the commodity has risen from less than N20,000 for a big basket in the last few weeks to around N70,000, depending on the market and location.

Reports by our correspondents showed that in states where tomatoes are cultivated, including Kano, Katsina and Benue states, the price of the commodity has risen from N17,000–N20,000 a basket to N40,000-N45,000.

On the other hand, in Abuja, Kwara, Oyo, Rivers, Lagos and Enugu states, the price has risen to as high as N70,000, pushing many households and restaurants to the edge. The size of the baskets is about the same across most of the markets.

While farmers are attributing the surge to high production costs, pest attacks and off-season scarcity, agricultural experts are instead calling for extensive research that will lead to the availability of water-resistant seeds to enable farmers to plant all year round, including during the rainy season.

For many households, the current price of tomatoes is beyond their reach, while for restaurants, it is eating into their profits. They said they are now forced to resort to tomato paste, which price is also going up.

We are now using tomato paste – Consumers

Mrs Azzez Kikelomo, owner of an Abuja-based restaurant, said the hike in the price of tomatoes has led to an increase in the price of food per plate at the restaurant.

She said a basket of tomatoes, which she used to buy for N17,000 or N18,000 a few weeks ago at Dei-dei market, has now gone up to N48,000 and costs even more at the Karmo Tuesday market as well as Bwari market.

“I’m even confused now because how much tomato paste can I use in my restaurant? We just have to buy tomatoes, no matter the price. And if the produce is too costly, you know the implication; we are going to transfer the cost to the customers, who will now pay more per plate. We also reduce the amount of soup we give to customers,’’ she said.

A report from Kwara State also showed how farmers and residents are lamenting the rise in the price of tomatoes since last week.

Farmers and marketers in the state also attributed the current price hike to pest attacks on tomato farms, the cost of production, and transportation.

Daily Trust observed that a big basket of the produce, which was sold for about N20,000 a few months ago, is now sold for between N57,000 and N58,000.

While some residents have since devised other means to cushion the effect on households and families, others are calling on the government to put in place programmes and policies that will reduce the cost of production.

Dried tomato to the rescue

Mrs Lateeah Abdullahi said in response to the situation, various methods have been adopted.

“Some of us now dry the tomatoes when they’re surplus and soak them in water before using them during scarcity. Sometimes, we cook it after grinding it until it becomes a thick paste which we then pour into bottles.

“This process can survive without electricity for a considerable length of time. The only thing is that it loses its fresh taste. We also switch to canned tomatoes as a buffer.

“With this, I can use around N200-N300 to prepare a meal for a family of five, like mine, instead of N500 or more for normal tomatoes, which we even still had to manage,” he noted.

Mama Aisha, who has been in the tomato business for decades, attributed the high cost to pest attacks in farms “around Kano and Dutse, where we get the ‘arewa’ supply from.

“What we learnt was that the present situation is due to pest attacks on the tomato farms in these communities.

“Ordinarily, the commodity becomes expensive due to the non-availability of the Arewa supply, and we fill the gap with Yoruba produce from Odooba in Ogbomoso and Asa until September, when we begin to get supply from the North.

“Now, instead of 10 trucks of tomatoes, what you have are a few minibuses of the produce. You sell according to what you buy.

“Since this week, the price of a basket of tomatoes has hovered around N47,000 to N65,000, depending on the quality and sizes.

“Four years ago, we bought a basket for N75,000 due to the same issue of pest attacks. But we just hope it will come down now,” she noted.

Umar Mahmud Aboki, a farmer and Kwara State chairman of the All Farmers Association of Nigeria (AFAN) said, “Increase in the price of production has affected the price of tomatoes.

“The high cost of production and inflation are major factors as prices of farm chemicals and fertilisers have tripled.

“Before, on our farms, we employed labourers and bought motorcycles for them for around N280,000. Now that has gone up to N500,000,” Aboki said.

Kano: Consumers say alternatives not tasty

In Kano, one of the producing states, the price of tomatoes has skyrocketed with an over 100 per cent increase. The situation, which came at a time when tomatoes were scarce on the farm, has left households, restaurants, and other users resorting to several alternatives that they say are not as tasty as fresh tomatoes.

Daily Trust gathered from the markets that a basket of tomatoes is now sold at between N40,000 and N45,000, which is over 100 per cent higher than it was sold within the last two weeks when it went for N15,000.

The situation is also forcing women to resort to dried tomatoes and tomato paste.

“We are now buying the sachet tomato, and even that one is costly. A sachet of tomato paste that was sold at N70 is now N120. Even the dried one is also costly,” a housewife, Hajara Abdullahi, has said.

Speaking to Daily Trust about the reason for the hike in price and scarcity, one of the major tomato marketers in Yankaba market, Mansur Yankaba, said the recent pest attack on some farms across many tomato-producing states was what led to the scarcity of the produce.

He said many farms have been devastated by Tuta absoluta, a pest that can destroy a large tomato farm in a few hours.

“Other reasons are the fact that the tomatoes have finished; they are no longer available on some farms. In Kano, we have no tomatoes coming from farms.

The produce is now coming from Bauchi and Maiduguri. This usually happens every year,” he added.

Also speaking, a tomato farmer, Jamilu Muhammad, said the attack by pests, which they termed ‘ebola’ has affected the availability of the commodity.

“The Tuta absoluta has caused a lot of damage to tomato farming, and we must face this challenge now. In one hour, the pest can destroy five hectares of tomatoes. Another issue is, we still don’t have water-resistant tomato seeds.

“Farmers are afraid of tomatoes this season because rain is about to start. If we plant tomatoes now, they may not grow as we want because rain will soon start and it will affect them. We will run at a loss,” he said.

Reports from Benue, another tomato-producing state, said the price of a basket has risen to N40,000 in various markets across the state.

We are not to blame – Tomato sellers

Our correspondent, who went around some markets in Makurdi, the state capital, reports that a basket of tomatoes that was sold at between N12,000 and N15,000 has now gone up to between N40,000 and N45,000.

Malam Isah Aliyu, who retails tomatoes both in baskets and smaller rubber measures at Wadata Market, told our correspondent that he now sells a basket for N40,000 while the small rubbers cost N2,500.

Similarly, Maria Akioye and Isiaka Momoh, both tomato sellers, lamented that the prices of the commodity skyrocketed just before the recent Sallah celebration.

Akioye attributed the sudden rise in the price of tomatoes to the off-season, saying the season of tomato scarcity was usually between May and October every year.

She added that as the year draws to an end, tomatoes will again be plentiful and prices will drop as farmers begin to make fresh harvests at their farms.

The tomato trader, however, added that before the end of May, farmers in Benue would begin to harvest theirs and bring them to the market.

A buyer simply identified as, Stella, said the alternative in the meantime would be sachet tomatoes.

Stella said, “I can’t buy these tomatoes at the current price. I will resort to sachet tomato paste for my stew.”

Reports from Lagos State also indicated that a basket of tomatoes is now sold for as much as N60,000 depending on the market.

At Mile 12 market, a basket, that was sold at N35,000 some weeks ago, is now sold at N62,000.

A seller, who simply gave her name as Deborah, also attributed the situation to what she called production challenges up north from where the produce is brought.

“We heard that a disease is attacking tomato farms there, and again they said this is off-season; you know they hardly plant tomatoes during the rainy season, and the cost of production. All these are the major causes of the current price hike, but it is normal at this time,’’ she said.

Reports from Rivers and Enugu states also indicate a similar increase in the prices of the produce.

In Port Harcourt, a basket of tomatoes is now sold for between N65,000 and N70,000, while in Enugu, it is sold for between N63,000 and N68,000 depending on the market.

Water-resistant seeds way out – Crop scientist

An agricultural expert, Mr Toyin Alonge, has called for thorough research on water-resistant tomato seeds that would enable farmers to plant during the rainy season.

Without this, he said, the crisis would continue annually, as past experiences have shown that seasonal production of the produce has been the major cause of the hike around this time.

He said it was also the absence of water-resistant seeds that has been making it difficult for tomatoes to do well in the southern parts of the country, making the entire country rely mostly on supply from the North, adding that whenever anything happens to production in the North, the entire country will be in trouble.

Alonge, who is a crop scientist, also called for more research on tomato seeds that can resist pest attacks, especially the destructive Tuta absoluta. He also suggested massive investment in irrigation facilities to enable massive dry season production of the product as well as storage facilities.

An official of the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, who craved anonymity, said research efforts are on, in collaboration with an international organisation, to find a final solution to the Tuta absoluta pest.

He assured farmers that the government had concluded a plan to pay more attention to the development of irrigation facilities to enable all-year-round farming of various agricultural commodities.


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