Tomato farmers in Gulu district are grappling with low prices for their produce, following a bumper harvest of the fruit this season.
The drop in price is being attributed to increased production, in addition to the lockdown which affected many farmers’ ability to sell their produce.
“The farm gate price of tomatoes has dropped because of the bumper harvest across the sub-region, coupled with plenty of rain this season. The closure of hotels and restaurants due to lockdown also led to a drop in the demand for tomatoes,” said Kasimu Mbulaiteyea, a tomato farmer in Airfield Village in Gulu.
Mbulaiteyea, who now sells his tomatoes door-to-door like several other farmers, says many families embarked on kitchen gardening during this lockdown, meaning they no longer spend money buying tomatoes and certain food items, especially vegetables.
Peter Ocan, is one such individual who planted tomatoes, garden eggs, amaranth and spinach, after he found himself spending a lot of time at home this lockdown. He says for the past month he has not spent a penny on tomatoes.
“I don’t think I am going to spend a lot of money buying vegetables again. Even when the lockdown is lifted, I will keep planting food in my backyard,” Ocan said.
Paska Akello, a tomato seller at Olayoilong market in Gulu Town says five tomato fruits which were sold at Shs 1,000 last season now cost Shs 500, while a box of tomatoes that they previously bought between Shs 150,000 to Shs 200,000 is now sold at between Shs 80,000 to Shs 90,000.
“Tomatoes used to be expensive because we would get them from Kampala or Mbale, but with the lockdown, many whose jobs were considered non-essential resorted to farming,” Akello said.
“Now, we do not struggle to buy tomatoes for resale like in the past. You just call a farmer within the district, and he brings you the fruits,” she added.
Vicky Emotai the Chairperson, Gulu Vendors Association, says that the demand for tomatoes is limited because farmers cannot sell to markets outside the district, like before.
However, not everyone has been affected by the low prices due to the bumper harvest.
Richard Okello, another tomato farmer in Amuru District, advises farmers to be more strategic when deciding when to plant if they are to maximise the benefits from their enterprises.
“I knew this would be the tomato harvest season, so I planted my own a little later; they will be ready in September. Later as many farmers plant in order to supply at Christmas, I will plant mine for harvest after the festive season,” Okello said.
“For instance, at one time the price of boo [a green vegetable] was so low that people started feeding it to their goats, but now there is no boo in the market. So, if a farmer was calculative, this would be their time to earn big from boo,” Okello said.
Kenneth Oketta Akena, the Gulu District Commercial Officer, predicts that the price of agricultural produce in the sub region is going to stabilize downwards, especially that of vegetables.
Oketta attributes this trend to the “idle time” brought by Coronavirus and also the availability of labour from learners no longer able to go to school, and now working in the gardens.
“Farming now is like a hobby in every home, and in the process, people have produced a lot of tomatoes, and other vegetables, to the extent that those who used to bring tomatoes from Mbale and Buganda have no market here,” Oketta said.
Oketta says although the lockdown has seen an increase in land utilization for agriculture and subsequent low price for produce in the sub-region, it is also a good thing because families will spend less money buying food and have more disposable income as a result.