The price of tomatoes in South Africa continues to soar and shoppers will likely have to endure paying a premium for the next three months. What could follow next, is a significant drop in demand that will hit farmers where it hurts the most.
The market price for tomatoes currently stands at R13.64 per kg, according to Johnny van der Merwe, managing director of agricultural information group Agrimark Trends (AMT). “Tomato production was severely impacted by weather this past month,” he says. Volumes reaching the market are down by about 40% and prices are 122% higher in January than they were in January last year.
Weather is not the only factor to blame, however.
A destructive pest called Tuta absoluta, or tomato leaf miner, has spread to all of the tomato production areas of South Africa. It is reported that leaf miners are taking a lot of class 1 tomatoes out of the market. Even Namibia has been affected.
“Supplies to the markets are expected to stay on a low level over the next three months, which can keep prices on a high level at least until April,” Van der Merwe cautions.
What will consumers do?
Tomato leaf miners are known to reduce the quality and yield of tomato crops. While older tomato leaves can be more tolerant, young plants can easily be destroyed.
A tomato farmer in the Western Cape, Byron Booysen, agrees that the main contributor towards the increase in tomato prices is the leaf miner. He adds that weather conditions such as high rainfall in other regions also decreases production.
“All the rain that we have is causing more infestation of fungus and production is slowed down, crops are being destroyed and farmers can’t plant for the next season. All of this impacted on the production and the supply side of things,” says Booysen.
Soaring fuel prices seem to be further straining Mzansi’s tomato industry. Boysen points to this as another contributing factor in the upwards tomato price trend. Rising fuel costs have naturally impacted on how farmers distribute their produce.
He says consumers are currently paying more for tomatoes and are having to choose whether to buy tomatoes or leaving them. “If the price increases too much, we might have a situation where, at some stage [there’s a] delay or a drop in demand. When this happens, we might have a sudden drop in prices in the future,” he says.
But overall, Booysen is positive that prices won’t remain high for too long and that the industry should remain positive.
In South Africa, tomatoes are considered the second most important vegetable commodity after potatoes. Tomatoes contribute about 24% of the total vegetable production in South Africa, but the industry has endured many setbacks in recent months.
In December 2021 alone, the industry lost at least R94 million due to heavy rains which resulted in Mzansi’s five main fresh produce markets receiving between 500 to 700 tonnes fewer tomatoes daily.
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