There is a rising anxiety over the worsening scarcity of tomatoes and peppers in most parts of the country, with consumers and sellers adducing different reasons for the scarcity.
While traders lament low patronage, consumers lament the scarcity and high prices.
Farmers and traders who spoke with journalists highlighted the ravaging Tuta Absoluta, popularly known as tomato ebola; fuel subsidy removal and its effect on transportation; and the rainy season as major reasons behind the scarcity of the commodity and its sudden disappearance from markets.
A tomato seller in Mowe, Ogun State, Mrs Abiodun Farayola, who spoke with one of our correspondents on Friday, said although the scarcity of tomato and pepper was relatively an annual experience, the removal of the petrol subsidy and increased fuel price had made them more expensive.
She said, “Tomato and pepper are now expensive because of the high fuel prices as a result of the removal of fuel subsidy. These food items are transported from the North to the South and the transporters make use of trucks which are dependent on fuel, so they added their fuel expenses to the cost of transporting tomatoes and pepper.
“Almost every year, there is usually a period where tomatoes go out of season and become scarce. That one is normal. But this year, things have been different because of the fuel hike which has led to an increase in food prices.
Similarly, traders in the popular Mile 12 market in Lagos, explained that the subsidy removal and rainy season contributed immensely to the disappearance of the commodities.
A trader, Abdullahi Musa, who sells tomatoes and pepper in baskets in the market, said, “It is not our fault that tomatoes are expensive now. Transportation from the North to Lagos has doubled, more so the rains damage most of the produce harvested, so the quantity coming into the state is limited.
“The rainy season has caused us great losses as harvested tomatoes and pepper perish once they come in contact with water. There is nothing we can do until the season passes.”
Another seller at Ojodu, Lagos, Bilikis Oluyode, lamented that the subsidy removal was choking her business. She said a bowl of tomatoes which was formally sold to her at N3,500 at a local market in Ibadan had increased to N6,000.
She added that patronage had also reduced over time as customers’ demand for tomato and pepper had dropped.
It was gathered that a basket of tomatoes was now selling for N40,000 as against N23,000 at the beginning of the year.
A crate of tomatoes sold for N24,000 as against the initial N7,000, while a paint bucket size had risen to N4,500 from N1,000.
Scotch bonnet pepper, popularly called ata rodo, were shaded in small bowls, each was sold for N1,000 as against N500 a few months ago.
Meanwhile, on Lagos Island, a paint of tomato sold for as high as N5,000 in Lekki and N8,000 in Victoria Island.
At the Jakande market, a basket of tomatoes sold for N50,000 while a plastic of scotch bonnet pepper sold for N3,000 as against N1,000 at the beginning of the year.
Some traders, who sold the commodities, said they had not been able to restock because of the price hike.
Another tomato seller at Magboro, Ogun State, Mrs Bumi Jadesola, blamed the price hike on the disease that had ravaged tomatoes in the past five months.
She stated, “The prices of tomatoes and pepper initially increased early this year due to the Tomato Ebola that affected the produce in the North. After a while, the prices came down and peaked again in May. This disease has led to many losses in the last five months and many farmers are avoiding investing in the fruit.
“This week, a basket of tomatoes that used to be between N22,000 and N24,000 sold for N78,000 and above because of the Sallah celebration and it has made patronage slower than it used to be. People are struggling, where is the money?”
Corroborating Jadesola, a tomato farmer in Kano State, Abdullahi Wabe, stated that the infestation had led to the scarcity of tomatoes in the last two months.
He said, “Tomatoes are just coming back into the market. I don’t know why it was not noticeable, but this scarcity has been going on for a long time. Farmers lost over half of their produce to the tomato ebola.
“Personally, I get about seven trucks of tomatoes from my farm but I could barely get three when the infestation happened and this was the same experience of many other farmers over here.”
Commenting on the impact of the subsidy removal, he said, “The recent removal of subsidy also affected us because we were already facing an infestation, then we had to transport our products at a ridiculously high amount to different parts of the country.
“There is no way we won’t have a hike in the prices of tomatoes this way. The other option for us is to not make profits, which is impossible because we have to continue farming.”
Wabe, however, noted that the market was returning to normal compared to previous weeks, explaining that there would be a drastic improvement in the supply of tomatoes across the country because “the infestation is being dealt with.”
Furthermore, a tomato and pepper supplier at the Ketu Fruit Market in Ikosi, Lagos, Mr Aminu Dachet, said the outbreak of the tomato ebola disease had reduced harvest from farms.
He stated, “The farms are not even producing as much as they can. The tomato ebola is really affecting farmers. It has been very hard for them. For instance, one farmer I buy from in Kwande village, Qua’an-Pan, could not even supply anything to me.
“The other farmers were just harvesting in baskets, and the output has been measly. The tomato balls always turn out small.”
Dachet added that the subsidy removal had played a major role in the current scarcity.
He noted, “I buy directly from farms in Jos, Shendam and Qua’an-Pan, Plateau State. It has been really difficult for us to transport these goods across cities. Remember we also buy the fuel for our lorries at the same price as the rest of Nigeria. So, it has been a struggle for us.”
He added that suppliers in the market now team up to bring in tomatoes from the North.
Meanwhile, a housewife, Mrs Kehinde Kosoko, lamented that she bought five small balls of tomatoes for N1,500 on Wednesday.
She added, “Sometimes, you go to the market and you don’t even see tomatoes to buy in the market. It has been terrible for us. I have to use other peppers and canned tomato paste to support my cooking these days.”
An elderly woman in Festac Town, Lagos, Mrs Theresa Ugo, said the scarcity of tomatoes in her area had pushed her into using tomato paste with blended peppers and onion for her stew dishes.
“Even if the tomato is expensive, we can still manage to buy what we can afford, but in my area here, we don’t even see tomatoes to purchase. I have to send somebody all the way to Mile 12 to buy and they usually come back with small amounts for ridiculous amounts of money,” Ugo added.
Tomato association reacts
The President, Tomatoes and Orchard Producers Association of Nigeria, Mr Bola Oyeleke, who spoke with one of our correspondents, attributed the scarcity of tomatoes to the disease outbreak, fewer tomato farmers and high temperatures in the North.
He added that farmers were yet to recover from the loss they suffered during the cash crunch when most of them sold their produce at giveaway prices.
Oyeleke said, “During the rainy season, only a few farmers venture into the production of tomatoes, due to financial constraints. The rains came early this year but in the North, there was intense heat which affected the plant. The continuous rain also comes with a lot of bacteria and fungi diseases that affect the plant.”
The TOPAN president further decried farmers’ inability to access loans and grants, saying it was the reason why small-scale farmers were pulling out from the production of tomatoes this year.
Oyeleke added that the tomato ebola experienced earlier in the year also contributed to the scarcity. He noted that the price of tomatoes from the North on Friday sold between N27,000 and N32,000, adding that it would remain so until next month.
“We need government intervention and private and individual partnership in the sector,” Oyeleke added.