A case of fewer than usual tomato growers, the ongoing rains, and a lack of subsidised fertilisers for horticulture farmers has contributed to one regular-sized tomato retailing for 10 shillings.
Roughly three months back, a kilogram of tomatoes at your mama mboga set you back between 30 and 20 shillings. Today, Sh50 can only purchase three ‘large’ tomatoes. This was as a result of an oversupplied market. While these were softer times for consumers, for farmers, not so much.
“In areas such as Kajiado and Isiolo where tomatoes are heavily cultivated but have to be transported over long distances to the major markets, farmers were paid as little as Sh600-500 for a 50-kilogram crate,” explained tomato farmer Joshua Mutuku.
In Kenya, crops with an easy barrier for cultivation such as tomatoes and onions are often characterised by cycles of boom and burst: Speculative farmers will hear/see how much money is being made growing crop A and will all rush to grow the same crop. In three months time when the fruits are mature; “Wote watakutana kwa soko”.
According to Johsua who has been a tomato farmer for five years, it is a lazy argument to ascribe the current tomato prices sorely to the ongoing rains.
“Really heavy rains are a little over three weeks old. If they were the main cause of market undersupply, there would be rotting tomatoes in both farms and markets. As it stands, even those ‘ugly’ tomatoes are unavailable.”
In about two weeks’ time, he expects the effects of the ongoing rains to be more evident and push up prices even further. “As rains persist, tomatoes not grown in greenhouses will be difficult to stake effectively and keep free of disease and pests. Lack of access to tarmacked roads means ripe tomatoes are becoming increasingly difficult to transport.”
While most farmers growing cereals have had access to state-subsidised fertilisers– a bag of 50-kilogram fertilser goes for as low as Sh2,500 which has led to record maize harvests— horticulture farmers have not been as lucky. “We are still paying Sh5,600-5,400 for 20 kilograms of WINNER/ NITRABOR fertiliser which is applied to my tomatoes,” he informed.