Price doubles to 80 birr a kilo
Tomato production and supply have plummeted after top producers of the plant have been suffocated by a tomato epidemic.
Ethiopia’s top tomato producing corridors in Meki and Zeway in Oromia regional state are hit by “leaf spot,” a fungal disease that interrupts photosynthesis and “Tuta Absoluta,” an invasive insect pest.
The price of a kilo of tomatoes has doubled to 80 birr in the past two weeks.
The tomato leaf disease erupted in the rift valley cultivation areas following the heavy rainy season. When the humidity is high, the spread of the pest is higher. As the rains decrease, the disease disappears. Tuta Absoluta, which entered Ethiopia seven years ago from South Africa and has been affecting tomato producing areas, is also exacerbated during the rainy season.
The harvest and supply of farmer cooperatives and unions in Meki, Ziway, and all the way down to Hawassa, has dropped substantially since the outbreak. The lack of effective chemical sprays for the diseases has also exacerbated the impact.
The price of the chemical used to spray tomato farms surged to 14,000 birr per liter. Farmers are forming associations to pool finance and purchase the chemical, as the farmers could not afford the price individually.
“In particular, the Tuta Absoluta insect can be protected by the Tuta chemical. However, the chemical is expensive in Ethiopia,” said Belayneh Negusse, plant protection director at the Ministry of Agriculture. “The disease is difficult to see at first, and farmers might recognize it long after it has destroyed the plant and after it is too late for the chemical to be effective.”
The rift valley farming corridors that include Meki, Ziway, and Hawassa in Oromia and southern regions constitute up to 70 percent of the country’s tomato output.
Ethiopia produced 1.1 million quintals of tomatoes last year, according to the Ethiopian Statistics Service (ESS). Over 11,000 hectares of land is cultivated by over 112,000 private holders during the year. The fruit is cultivated thrice a year, using both irrigation and rain. Oromia constituted the largest share, followed by SNNP.
Private holders, cooperatives, and unions at Meki and Ziway, which are Ethiopia’s largest tomato producing corridors, usually lease the land from local landholders. They also stretch water from Lake Ziway, using water pumps and generators.
The price escalations in land leases in these areas have also contributed to the increasing price of tomatoes. The thick layer of brokers and middlemen between farmers and the market is also contributing to the price increment of tomatoes lately, according to Belayneh.
However, Usman Surur, former director of the federal Cooperatives Agency and currently deputy chief of government and rural cluster coordinator in the SNNP region, said that the region managed to contain the spread of the disease, unlike Oromia.
“In winter, tomatoes are not produced in most areas. The reason for the price increase in the market is that only a few areas produce the product. In the SNPPR, there are no reports of tomato shortages happening due to the disease,” Usman said.