Sweet pepper and tomato prices have increased significantly in South Africa over the past three weeks, with analysts citing extreme cold as the main cause.
According to Dr Johnny van der Merwe, agricultural economist at North West University (NWU), the latest tomato price has increased by 23% to R8.09 per kilogram. The latest pepper price has increased by 20% to R11.97.
“The cold conditions experienced countrywide have had an adverse effect on volumes delivered to the market, as well as an effect on price, because these commodities are such perishable products. The weather resulted in supply issues and thus lower volumes being delivered to the market,” he says.
Christiaan Frederick Solomon, director of Always Fresh SA, shares the same sentiment. “The cold spell encountered recently in South Africa all the way up to Botswana, has had an impact on the plant yields. Supply is lower and demand is higher.”
Farmers hit hard
Crop failures bring an array of far-reaching adverse effects. While it could be assumed that a price increase would play in their favour, Byron Booysen, a vegetable farmer in Kraaifontein, reveals the contrary.
“It is tough. A lot of producers are struggling. Even if demand is high, if the price of a crop is exorbitant, we risk losing customers,” he says.
As a hydroponic farmer, Booysen has greenhouses but these do not provide climate control.
“The frost has been severe and if you don’t have a take-off agreement or a stable market, buyers may choose not to buy tomatoes at this time,” he adds.
Ultimately, while high prices may initially benefit producers, the risk is that at some point, the demand could drop.
The price hike at fresh produce markets has also seen an impact on retail prices and therefore, a knock-on effect on consumers.
“With crops destroyed, the markets are under pressure. We’ll experience the effects for weeks after the harsh weather conditions have passed. In addition to the climate, there are other factors to contend with, such as the fuel price surge, drought and escalating electricity rates.
“The whole value chain is affected from various angles, all the way up to the end user,” says Brendan Brunette, owner of The Rocket Seed, a wholesale and retail fruit and vegetable store in Gqeberha, Eastern Cape.
Consumers have been hard hit at supermarket level where supply is limited and prices have inflated as a result.