Long rains, political uncertainty double the price of tomatoes

The ongoing long rains coupled with farmers' failure to plant fearing possible post poll violence have conspired to more than double the price of tomatoes in the last two months as shortage bites, adding pressure on household budgets.

From major markets across the country, to estate markets where the commodity is sold in retail to millions, the price has moved from Sh10 for three tomatoes to Sh10 a tomato. “I use three tomatoes while cooking lunch and three during supper, so that means from an initial budget on Sh20 a day on tomatoes I am now being forced to use Sh60. But I cant afford that and I am now being forced to do without them,”said Faith Mwende a casual labourer in Nairobi's Majengo area.

The shortage has been particularly severe in Nairobi, Mombasa, Nakuru, Kisumu and Nyeri where residents depend on food transported from neighboring rural districts. A spot check at the Wakulima Market, the country's largest fruit and vegetable wholesale market which also feeds half of Nairobi's residents indicated that the price of a 90kg bag of tomatoes had shot up from Sh3,000 in January to Sh6,000 in April. A similar trend was noticed in other major markets in the country with the prices oscillating between Sh5400 and Sh6500.

“Traders who come to buy from us, cant understand why we have suddenly increased prices, but we are also buying the same at such a high prices. Our suppliers say there is acute shortage in the farms. I used to buy a 90kilo bag at Sh3,300 in January, now I am buying it at Sh6200 i am in business, I just cant make losses,”said Ladislas Muema a trader at Wakulima Market. The ongoing long rains have been blamed for the biting shortage as most of the tomatoes in the farms wilt away while the rest succumb to weather related diseases.

Farmers in Nyeri, Kinangop, and Kisii who are the main suppliers now say tens of kilos they planted at the beginning of the year and that were due for harvest in March and April now lay rotten in farms with the surviving ones now being attacked by climate related diseases. “I was anticipating around 100kilos at the end of April. I have already lost about 50 kilos. Some have been swept by floods and others have black marks as a sign of rotting. Traders are thorough in inspection when buying them and one dark spot and they reject them. This rain has cost me about Sh150,000. I can only now wait till May to start planting again,”lamented Gabriel Ocharo a Kisii farmer whose market is Nakuru and Wakulima market.

Brigenet Africa that works with smallholder farmers estimate that over 400,000 tomato farmers have been affected by the ongoing rains which has affected their yields and income. “It is not just the rotting of the commodities in the farms, but also the impassable roads that has seen the commodities delay in farms and rot. This has been painful to many farmers who have managed to tend to them for long. We even experienced cases where farmers would walk long distances on foot with the tomatoes to access the main road,”said Humphrey Ndotono of Bridgenet Africa.

The farmers who are however having the last laugh are those that have embraced greenhouse farming with the growth of their produces not being subjected to environmental conditions. “The shortage has meant that when we are selling the tomatoes we also push the prices up. We are also in business. A 90kg bag which I used to sell for Sh3,000-Sh3,500 am now selling it at Sh6,000,”said Kimemia Mutahi in Nyeri.

But political uncertainity following the just concluded elections has also contributed to the shortage. Farmers fearing for after poll violence delayed farming right from January and February. The shortage which has birthed the price increase has meant that means ordinary households in Nairobi have borne heavier burden on food stuff which was reflected in the March inflation figures. The Food and non-alcoholic beverages  price indices rose from 0.77 percent to 1.35 percent in March according to  the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS).

                                                  Written by Bob Koigi for African Laughter