The problem has far-reaching implications for food security and farmers’ income in East Africa’s second-largest economy.
Hawa Nassoro, a peasant farmer in northern Tanzania’s Kilimanjaro Region describes the situation as appalling. Her expectation was to make reasonable returns from her labour but that went into thin air.
Attending her two-acre tomato farm in Chekimaji area of Hai District in the region, Hawa cites the government ban on export of unprocessed crops and lack of processing plants as key factors for farmers in the area to see their incomes declining. Currently, Tanzania has few tomato processing plants.
Addressing the National Assembly in July, the Minister for Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries, Charles Tizeba banned the export of unprocessed cereal crops and others, directing farmers and businessmen to export value added agro-produce.
Before the ban on exports, unprocessed crops, tomato and other horticultural crops grown in northern Tanzania were being sold to neighbouring Kenya.
Picking ripe tomatoes in her farm with the help of her family members, Hawa says: “Before the ban, we used to sell our tomatoes to Kenyan businessmen, who would offer a competitive price, but now there is nothing we can do.”
According to her, a 60kg-crate of tomatoes is now sold at 0.92 US dollars, from 13.75 dollars three months ago.
“I am not sure if I can recover the money I spent during the entire farming process from buying seeds and farm inputs as well as labour,” says Hawa, a single parent.She is also worried about whether she can be able to repay the loan from the village banking community (VICOBA).
“I’m so confused,” she says, while pouring harvested tomatoes in the crate, as she isn’t assured of getting customers in the market.
Hawa is not alone, there are many farmers in the region who face a similar challenge.
Nicholas Mashauri of West Kilimanjaro, in Siha District is among them. He asks the government to review the crop export ban for the well-being of farmers.
“My children are in private schools and my life depends on horticultural crops. So, with this tomato market trend I doubt if will be able to pay school fees,” he says.
He adds: “We struggled a lot to reach this stage of harvesting but the market is ruining our dreams as farmers. Growing tomatoes has a number of challenges from the changing weather patterns to diseases. ”
Mashauri asserts that if the trend will continue the dream of using horticulture as a tool to address poverty and assurance of food security won’t be realised as many farmers are being discouraged from venturing into this sphere of farming.
Kilimanjaro Regional Commissioner, Said Meck Sadiki is aware of the challenge. "I have seen with my eyes how tomatoes are rotting in farms due to lack of markets. It is a matter of serious concern, as regional authorities we're working on the challenge to come up with a solution."
He also asked district councils to wake-up and assist farmers to find markets for the crop.
"It is high time we come up with market networks as well as encourage investors to chip in and establish tomato processing plants.”
Similar scenarios are being experienced in substantial tomato growing regions of Arusha, Morogoro, Iringa and Njombe.
Reports say that some farmers in Morogoro Region have abandoned their tomato farms due to the situation.
Dr Blandina Kilama, senior researcher at the Policy Research for Development (REPOA) is aware of the challenge, citing the adoption of the value chain as a solution to the current dilemma facing farmers in the country, where agriculture contribute heavily to the GDP.
She also says the current oversupply of tomatoes in the country should be seen in broader perspectives, noting that lack of accurate information on the market as one of the challenges facing Tanzanian farmers.
Happiness Mchomvu, coordinator of Women Empowerment Development in the Small Industries Development Organisation (SIDO), expounds that 60 percent of crops grown in Tanzania are exposed to losses due to lack of market, poor storage, pests, etc.
She stressed on the need to seriously embark on value addition on the products produced by farmers in the East African nation.
According to Horticultural Development Council of Tanzania (HODECT), from 2008 to 2009, Tanzania produced 145,000 metric tonnes of tomatoes, while neighbouring Kenya produced 404,070 metric tonnes, a situation that shows that the country hasn’t seriously ventured into tomato farming.