ZNFU explains Tomato supply glut, calls for investment in value addition

The Zambia National Farmers Union – ZNFU Media Manager Kelvin Kaleyi has cleared the air on what has ended up as a market supply glut of Tomatoes.

Kaleyi says that Zambia generally experiences an oversupply of fresh tomatoes usually between the month of July and October because the low disease prevalence during this period.

Speaking during an exclusive interview with Zambian Business Times-ZBT, Kaleyi said that it is very difficult to grow tomatoes during the rain season and this is why the prices also peak during that season as the market demand for fresh produce is high while supply is at its lowest.

But this is contrasted with the good climatic and weather conditions suitable for tomato production generally experienced between July and October, there are fewer pests and tomato diseases which lead to increased production.

“The weather condition is good and the prevalence of diseases is not high”, what we need to do as a country is to be happy that there is increased production and to add value to these tomatoes that are produced instead of just having tomatoes going to waste”, Kaleyi said.

He said that what we all should now focus on is adding value to these fresh products by way of producing other by-products such as tomato juice and tomato paste.

The fact that we have some tomatoes that have gone to waste is a sign that there is not much value addition taking place in Zambia and that there is need to invest a lot more in value addition.

Illegal imports of Tomatoes
Kaleyi further added that before tomatoes or any other Agro products which are capable of being produced by local farmers are imported, ZNFU holds stakeholder meetings to access what is on the market and determines whether there is need to import or not.

There are also people who have been bringing in (importing) tomatoes and this causes further distortion in the market prices of Agro produce.

Kaleyi disclosed that during rain season, a box of tomato costs about K250 as was experienced early this year. There was even other places that saw tomato prices per box fetch as high as K400 per box due to the market restrictions because of the cholera outbreak.

Invest in processing and value addition
When asked what solution farmers can employ to preserve their capital and not lose money by selling at below cost of production prices, Kaleyi said farmers should consider partnering with manufacturers or investing in processing equipment and start adding value on the farm produce.

“Another generally applied principle is crop diversification, you look at crops that will do better in terms of market prices during rain season, then which ones will do better post rainy season etc.

For instance, if you look at okra , eggplants and garlic or onion these crops are know to do better on the market and can be kept on the shelf for quite some time as opposed to tomatoes, so you look at the market condition and decide on which crops to invest in instead of just concentrating on one crop.

Banks high interest rates stumbling farmers
He further called on the banking sector regulator and stakeholders to find ways to lower the interest rates. Agriculture production margins are lower and need a low interest rate regime to grow

As ZNFU, we look forward to the banking sector lowering interest rates to allow as many people to borrow including farmers so that they can invest in mechanization and other value addition equipment or products.

Currently, it is very difficult to borrow and invest in crop production considering the current interests rates. One cannot borrow at 25% to 30% and make enough return, it is ridiculously high and that is a major stumbling block for farmers.

Export market may be the answer
Concerning the export market Kaleyi said neighboring Angola and the DRC are very good markets for agriculture products for small scale farmers and there is need to invest in transportation.

Kasumbalesa is a very huge market and can absorb all the tomatoes that are getting rotten at Soweto, better to identify and understand the market very well before putting the seed in the ground, agriculture is a business.