Consumers switch to pastes as prices of tomatoes skyrocket

Fresh tomato consumers are gradually switching to pastes on account of a ravaging disease known as ‘Tuta Absoluta’, which has forced prices of tomatoes to increase by 135 percent.

A big basket of tomato, which went for N17, 000 a month ago is now sold for N40, 000. The increase in price has forced consumers to buy puree/pastes that are relatively cheaper.

It has also shot up demand for canned and sachet tomato pastes/puree, causing higher than expected sales in that segment, according to dealers.

A cross section of consumers in Lagos and other major cities told BusinessDay that they had to resort to buying puree when they found out that the price of fresh tomato had risen by over 135 percent.

“I now buy tomato paste in sachets since the price of tomato has gone up. You can imagine buying five pieces of tomato for N400,” said Tope Ojo, a tomato buyer at Mile 12 market.

“Paste is cheaper for those of us that cannot afford buying tomatoes. The tomatoes we usually buy for N500 before is now sold for N2, 000. The economy is difficult for me to spend that on tomatoes alone,” she said.

Tomato constitutes 18 percent of all vegetables consumed by the Nigerian populace, according to a research by the Agricultural Economics department of the University of Ibadan.

The country has almost 180 million population and tomato serves as staple food for the majority of this number.

Nigeria is the 13th largest producer of tomato in the world and the second after Egypt in Africa, yet the country is still unable to meet local demand because about 50 percent of tomato produce is wasted due to lack storage facility, poor handling practice, and poor transportation network across the country.

The situation has resulted in an import bill of N16 billion annually in the importation of tomato paste, which makes up for the shortfall in local production.

“You can imagine that a basket of tomatoes which went for N17, 000 last month now sells for almost N40, 000. Some of us now buy the cheaper cans and sachets,” said Alice Aliagun, managing director of small-scale Sandton Shop in Lagos.

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).

Bashir Zakari, a tomato seller in Mile 12 market said a basket of tomato now sells between N30, 000 and N40, 000 depending on the size of the basket, as against N15,000 and N17, 000 obtained a month ago.

“The price of tomato normally goes up by this time of the year, but this year’s increase is higher because of the tomato disease that has affected some farms in the north. It has also been raining excessively in the north and this inhibits the progress of tomatoes,” he added.

A basket of fresh pepper (tatashe and rodo) rose from N13, 000 to N13, 500.

Tomato paste is among the 41 items that was restricted from access to foreign exchange last year by the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN).

Recently, there has been a massive investment in tomato processing plants by major paste makers, including Erisco Foods, Dangote, Springfield Agro, Sonia Foods, amongst others.


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