Consumers lament cost of imported Burkinabe tomatoes

The price of imported fresh tomatoes has sharply increased, as traders now have to travel up north to neighbouring Burkina Faso to buy fresh tomatoes for sale on the local market.

This perennial shortage of the vegetable and reliance on Ghana’s northern neighbour to meet local demand for the commodity shows no sign of abating.

Ghana imports about 70,000 metric tonnes of tomatoes annually, between the months of November and April—the main dry season in the country—from Burkina Faso.

The vegetable, which is used in almost all local dishes, is currently unavailable in the country as tomato farmers rely heavily on changing weather patterns and are unable to cultivate it all year round.

From egg stew, jollof rice – a favourite of many; ground pepper for eating kenkey – a local corn-based food; and tomato soup (light soup), the vegetable which is rich in Vitamin E, Vitamin B6, Folates, Magnesium, Phosphorus and Copper, is ever-present in many Ghanaian dishes.

“There are no tomatoes in the country. Those who supply us now have to travel to Burkina Faso to bring some here for us to retail. It’s been like this for the past two months. But the price of tomatoes has further increased over the last two weeks. Just two weeks ago a box was sold for GHȼ1,000, but now it is GHȼ1,300,” an elderly woman – who refused to give her name but has been selling the vegetable at the Madina Market for years – told the B&FT on Sunday.

A consumer and resident of West Legon, Dziedzorm, also bemoaned the increase in tomato prices. “The tomato retailer at my area had no tomatoes on Saturday when I went to buy some. She said she has stopped selling fresh tomatoes temporarily, due to the sharp increase in prices.  She said that she couldn’t buy the box of tomatoes to retail, because of the high price when she went to the wholesalers in Accra.”

Now just one piece of tomato is sold by retailers for GHȼ1; a medium container ‘Olunka’ is sold for between GHȼ40-GHȼ55; and a wholesale box is going for GHȼ13,000.

Challenges with all-year cultivation

The country has the right conditions necessary for cultivation of the vegetable, except enough water all-year-round in major tomato producing areas that farmers can rely on for watering their plants.

Tomatoes require sunlight—about eight hours of continuous sunlight each day; good temperature – 3 to 4 months of warm, fairly dry weather; continuous and even watering; and well-drained soil among others.

In the raining season from April-October, water is plentiful and farmers have little or no need to water their farms at even intervals. However, between November and April when the dry season sets in, they cannot cultivate the vegetable.

The Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo-led government has assured of plans to carry through with its promise of constructing dams in the three northern regions, renowned for cultivation of the vegetable, under the ‘One Village, One Dam’ policy.

“This year, One-Village, One-Dam projects start full operation. It is a simple, low-tech project; but these dams will make a big difference to all our lives and the livelihoods of our farmers,” he told Parliament when he presented his second State of the Nation address in Accra.

Some little dams that had been abandoned have been earmarked for rehabilitation to bring them back to use. “Our farmers can see that government is putting resources to back up the usual words. The 50% subsidy on fertiliser and increase in provision of extension services are making a great difference to the performance of Ghanaian agriculture,” President Akufo-Addo said.

The renovation of defunct dams and construction of new ones, will help improve the cultivation of the tomatoes and reduce the country’s tomatoes import bill.