By Brian Okoth and Eunice Sigei
The retail price of a box of tomatoes in Nairobi has currently shot up twice the normal cost, making it hard for average-income families in the city to buy the commodity in large quantities.
A crate of the crop in Nairobi now retails at Ksh9, 000, or in some places, Ksh12, 000, up from Ksh6, 000 about a month or two ago.
In Mombasa, a box of tomatoes that sold at Ksh5, 000 about a month ago, now goes for at least Ksh7, 000. In Baringo, the price has nearly doubled from Ksh2, 500 to Ksh4, 5000 per crate.
What consumers are wondering over, is why the sharp increase in prices?
Experts say heavy rainfall experienced in most parts of Kenya late 2019, led to destruction of the crop in large quantities, thereby limiting the produce that ends up in the market.
Kirinyaga County, which is one of the biggest producers of tomatoes in Kenya, experienced destructive rains in November, December (2019) and January (2020), leading to the rotting of the crop in tens of acres of land.
Joseph, a tomato trader at Nairobi’s second-busiest market, Muthurwa, said it has become extremely hard to get the commodity in wholesale arrangements.
“Heavy rains experienced in Kenya late last year led to destruction of tomato crops. It became nearly impossible to spray pesticides on the crops, leading to rotting,” said Joseph.
Jane Wanjiru, another grocer in Pangani, Nairobi, said most of her customers have, of late, been buying tomatoes in small quantities compared to their purchasing habits in mid-and-late 2019.
“Customers are only buying one tomato per visit, and the tomato goes for at least Ksh10,” said Wanjiru.
Jacqueline Wanjiru, a tomato farmer in Kirinyaga, says she and her fellow growers are counting heavy losses after “swathes of our land were submerged in water, leading to the wash-away or complete destruction of tomatoes”.
“Because it became difficult to spray pesticides on the crops, as the rainwater would wash away the chemicals, the few remaining tomatoes decayed in the farms,” said Wanjiru.
However, not every tomato-producing region was affected by the rains. Perkera Irrigation Scheme in Baringo South continues to produce the crop with minimal or no interference.
Given a box of tomatoes in Baringo goes for Ksh4, 500, Margaret Jerotich, a trader in Marigat Market, says businesspeople from as far as Nairobi and Eldoret troop to Baringo to buy the goods and sell them in their counties of origin at double profits.
The tomato shortage has, arguably, been longer in Mombasa than any other region in Kenya.
In late December 2019, Kongowea Market was hit by a mass shortage of the commodity.
Julius Muthegi, a trader in charge of the tomato section, on December 26, 2019 told K24 Digital that the Christmas and New Year festivities did not contribute — in any way — to the then-hike in prices.
“Very few lorries are bringing tomatoes to the market this Christmas season. And this is because many farmers across Kenya had nothing, or little, to harvest during the rainy season,” said Muthegi.
“The rains destroyed tomatoes in farms. To make matters worse, the road networks were also affected, making it hard to transport the produce from far-flung farms to Kongowea,” he added.
Besides tomatoes, other farm produce whose supply was affected, included potatoes and vegetables.