Consumers, traders lament as tomato, pepper scarcity hits markets

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The worsening scarcity of tomatoes and peppers in most parts of the country is generating a rising anxiety 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 The Punch 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 The Punch 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 also 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, it was gathered that 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.

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