Seasonality, Transportation Hike, Responsible for Soaring Tomato Prices, Says Experts

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Seasonality, Transportation Hike, Responsible for Soaring Tomato Prices

The cost of transporting tomatoes from the north to Lagos currently sits between N3.1 million and N3.3 million, depending on the truck size and number of baskets carried.

While some reports point to the destructive pest “Tuta Absoluta” as the sole culprit behind Nigeria’s skyrocketing tomato prices, industry experts offer a more nuanced explanation. Seasonality and transportation difficulties are playing a significant role in the over 200% year-on-year price increase, forcing consumers to seek alternatives.

Mira Mehta, a prominent tomato trader known as “Tomato Jos,” took to X (formerly Twitter) to debunk the singular focus on Tuta Absoluta. She highlighted the impact of heavy rainfall, which hinders tomato production as the crop struggles in wet weather. Additionally, the cost of transporting fresh tomatoes from the north to other parts of the country has surged.

Mehta attributed this rise in transportation costs to Nigeria’s poor road network. Trucks are forced to travel slower during the rainy season, extending travel times and driving up expenses.

“Every year in June, during the rainy season, it’s difficult to grow tomatoes outdoors in Nigeria, and prices rise,” Mehta stated.

She further explained the seasonal element affecting transportation costs. “Trucks move slower and are more expensive during the rainy season. High humidity also damages the tomatoes more during transit,” she added.

The cost of transporting tomatoes from the north to Lagos currently sits between N3.1 million and N3.3 million, depending on the truck size and number of baskets carried.

Another X user, @borie_nla, shed light on additional factors contributing to the final market price.  In a tweet, he mentioned the high cost of loading and unloading tomatoes (around N250,000) and the substantial amount (over N450,000) allegedly paid in unofficial fees to police, customs, and immigration officers.

Borie further highlighted the burden of local government levies, with tomato trucks paying an average of N10,000 per council area they pass through. These additional costs ultimately translate into higher prices for consumers.

Despite being Africa’s largest tomato producer after Egypt and ranking 13th globally, Nigeria struggles to meet domestic demand.  Approximately 50% of tomato production is lost due to a lack of proper storage facilities, poor handling practices, and the inadequate transportation network.

However, the impact of Tuta Absoluta on tomato crops cannot be entirely disregarded. Sani Danladi, secretary-general of the National Tomato Growers, Processors, and Marketers Association of Nigeria, reported an 80% loss of tomato farmlands in Kano due to the pest.

Danladi emphasized the recurring issue of Tuta Absoluta infestations, causing significant losses for farmers already facing numerous challenges. He estimated that over 300 hectares of farmland and more than 500 farmers in Kano have been affected, with the pest also impacting Kaduna, Katsina, Jigawa, and Gombe states.

While Tuta Absoluta undeniably plays a role, a combination of seasonal factors and a deeply flawed transportation system are the primary drivers of the current surge in tomato prices in Nigeria.

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