A growing number of Kenyan families have cut the use of tomatoes or abandoned the produce altogether as heavy rains disrupt supply, tripling retail prices.
The commodity has become scarce in most fresh produce markets and prices increased sharply in the last two weeks pushing families to the edge.
A survey on Friday shows vegetable dealers in the capital Nairobi and suburbs are selling a big single tomato for up to 0.15 U.S. dollars, an all-time high, from a low of 0.05 dollars in January.
On the other hand, three small tomatoes are being sold at 0.20 dollars while a medium-sized tomato is going at 0.10 dollars.
Before the disruption, traders across Nairobi were selling three medium-sized tomatoes for 0.20 dollars and households could buy eight smaller ones for the same price.
A large box of tomatoes, which most vegetable traders buy at wholesale price before going to retail in residential areas, currently costs 75 dollars, up from 70 dollars in mid-April and 35 dollars in January.
“Tomatoes have become hard to come by because of the heavy rains. They are the new gold,” Grace Mutuku, a vegetable seller in Komarock on the east of Nairobi, said on Friday.
Mutuku, as many other grocery store operators across the Nairobi, gets her fresh produce supplies from Gikomba and Wakulima markets in the city.
“Traders are literally fighting for tomatoes at the two markets and you have to arrive as early as 4 a.m. to get them, that is, if you can afford,” she said.
However, even as traders fight for the commodity, she noted that the quality is not good especially for those fruits grown in open fields.
Mutuku noted that prices have increased in the last two weeks due to heavy rains pounding most parts of the East African nation.
Most tomatoes sold in Nairobi come from Loitoktok in Kajiado County, from Thika, Machakos and even northern Kenya. All these areas are receiving heavy rains currently, making it hard for the produce to reach market.
Outside Nairobi, prices of the produce are steeper in Mombasa, Eldoret and Kisumu, where a large box of tomatoes is being sold at between 75 dollars and 90 dollars.
“I have no choice but to forego tomatoes especially when cooking foods like vegetables. I am only using tomatoes in foods like meat to save costs. If you buy a single tomato at 0.15 dollars, how many can you afford?” posed Moses Sande, an officer messenger in Nairobi, representing the plight of many low-income Kenyans.
Bernard Moina, an agricultural officer in Western Kenya, noted that rains have disrupted supply of tomatoes in three ways. First is that they have made roads to farms impassable, making it difficult for the produce to reach market.
Second is that floods have destroyed the crop and others like melons on the farm, especially in areas at the Coast and in the Rift Valley.
And lastly, the rainy season brings a myriad of diseases that include tomato blight and bacterial wilt which affect the crop.
“Rains are a big source of many crop diseases and pests as the surface runoff carry disease-causing agents from one place to another. For instance, during the rainy season, bacterial wilt, blight and root rot diseases that affect potatoes, capsicum and tomatoes, among other crops, become prevalent,” he said.
He added that farmers find it hard to eradicate such diseases because of the rains, which wash off pesticides when they spray leading to loss of crop.
“Some farmers especially at the Coast and in Laikipia have lost acres of crop, some that was about to be harvested due to floods,” he said.
Moina noted that lucky ones who have harvested are losing their produce due to poor roads as they have no cold chain facilities.
Other commodities whose prices have increased due to the rains are onions, with a kilo going for up to 2 dollars, peas and coriander.
Kenya’s overall inflation in April stood at 3.73 percent down from 4.18 percent, but the food index during the month rose 1.59 percent due to increases in selected items. Enditem