Tomato is one of the most sensitive crops in that the price of the produce in the markets fluctuates erratically year by year. It is one of the most important basic vegetables. Since, being a highly perishable commodity it is extremely susceptible to price variations in the market implying that the produce should be immediately sold and cleared from the market without any delay. A bumper harvest of tomatoes has in many parts of the country does not small scale farmers as the excess production has caused a sharp drop in tomato prices at many times.
Tomatoes, known as poor man's apple, are cultivated by many farmers across the country. Farmers do sometimes reap profit from their crop, but most time, high yields of tomatoes tend to bring down the prices of the crop to ZMK 50 per box. Small scale farmers are usually bitter over tomato prices heading southward and causing them heavy loses. They said that for cultivating tomatoes on one acre, a farmer has to spend an average of ZMK _______ with the prevailing prices most times not even able to meet the cost of cultivation.
Tomatoes not destined for the kitchen: Tomatoes lie discarded in fields during seasons when supply exceeds demand. It is at these times that most small scale farmers across the country are disappointed because they do not get enough return to meet their production cost.
After harvesting, the farmers bring their produce to the market for sale. Their mode of transport from field to the market is mostly by small 1 to 5 tonne trucks the only available transport. Packaging is almost absent in the farmers’ field with the majority of them heaping the tomatoes in the trucks with packaging. In the market, the middlemen use wooden boxes-20 kg capacity (approx) to pack the tomatoes for onward sales.
Once the consignment reaches the market, damaged and decayed fruits are sorted out either at wholesaler or retailer level and these are sold at throwaway prices if there are any takers. In the whole process right from farmer’s field to the consumer the percentage of loss goes up to minimum 25 to 30 %. The post-harvest loss in tomatoes has been estimated to be about 30 to 40% due to inadequate post-harvest handling, lack of infrastructure, processing, and marketing and storage facilities.
While production of tomatoes in Zambia is high, very little or no value addition is done with the produce. This has resulted in a huge national loss by way of 30 to 50 % post-harvest losses of the fresh produce. Farming will be lucrative like industry if farmer gets reasonable price for the fresh produce. Although the consumer pays high or moderate price for the fresh commodities, the grower usually gets an unfair low price due to unfavorable distribution chain networks. This will change only if the tomatoes are processed and converted into value added products.
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