Gov’t maintains shocking silence as Cameroon’s Tomato industry collapses

As a country which depends predominantly on agriculture, Cameroon’s authorities are being blamed for not doing enough to rescue the tomato industry.

The inconsistencies in the prices of tomato fruits in the Cameroonian market is becoming a turn off for many dealers in the crop.

The President of the Cameroon Renaissance Movement MRC, Prof. Maurice Kamto has expressed his party’s concern on the future of tomato production in the central African nation, given its importance to the economy of the CEMAC subregion.

“For several weeks, this sector has experienced a critical situation marked by the loss of two-thirds (2/3) of its market, representing the market in the CEMAC zone; the collapse of the price of the 10Kg crate of tomatoes, which fell from 3,500 FCFA ($6.00) to 750 FCFA ($1) on the local market; the destruction of part of the national production, a consequence of the producers’ shortfall; leading to severe constraint between producers and their creditors,” Kamto said in a recent communiqué.

Speaking on local media, Tomato farmers in Lelem Village, located between Douala and Dschang say the conditions under which they are cultivating tomato fruits are not favorable and are discouraging many from investing in the business.

“There are many able persons here willing to cultivate tomato but the sector has been so neglected by the government that even we too are fed up growing the fruits for economic purposes,” explained a tomato farmer in Lelem.

The farmers and dealers in the sector say recovering money spent during production is impossible.

“For a commodity that requires so much effort to grow, it gives almost nothing as significant returns. Even the treatment spray that we buy to ward off diseases from the plants cost us a lot of money. Tomato in the market becomes so cheap that for a basket of tomato harvested and brought to the market, it is sold for as little as 800 FCFA ($1.30). At the end of the day we end up with just 500 FCFA from a basket,” laments Federick, a tomato farmer.

Another farmer in the same village says many are considering quitting the cultivation of the tomato fruit given the unpredictability of the prices in the market.

“Here, with tomato as our source of livelihood, it gets very frustrating when after suffering to cultivate the crop and bringing to the market, you discover the prices are merely at a giveaway. It is almost as if the work we do has no benefits,” Louis retorted on the state of affairs.

“In the market, a basket is sold for 800 FCFA, deducting the cost of transportation, you realize all we have left is 800FCFA”.

The farmers equally expressed their utmost dissatisfaction at the fact that the price of tomato keeps declining but the prices of treatment products for the plants keep rising in the market.

Reality on the ground
At the Mendong market situated in the heart of Cameroon’s political capital, Yaounde, the story is not quite different. Wholesale and buyers are also complaining of the fluctuating prices of the fruits.

“Last two weeks, I bought over 80 baskets of tomato at 800 FCFA each and sold at 1,500 FCFA ($2.6) and 2,000 FCFA ($2.48) to retailers, but today the prices have skyrocketed again drastically. When this happens, the demand for tomato falls, and then the stock we have starts rotting,” a tomato wholesale buyer in Yaounde told Mimi Mefo Info.

“The retailers know that tomato is a very delicate and perishable product since they already have mastery of their customers, they prefer not to buy tomato in huge quantities as they know they will not sell. This leaves us here with a huge unsold stock of tomato and most at times we have no choice than to bear the losses and sell at cheaper prices so as not to make complete losses,” explained another tomato wholesaler.

Talking to some persons in the food business in Yaounde, they made some appalling revelations as to what they have adopted as safety measures from the ever-fluctuating tomato prices.

“When I started my food business, by then tomato prices were very unbearable for me. I hear last week that the prices had gone down very low. To be honest, cheaper prices work for me… that way as I spend less but make considerable gains,” Evelyne revealed.

Some other consumers of the tomato fruit say they have decided to consume fresh tomatoes depending on the favorability of the market conditions. “When it is as cheap as it is right now, my family often likes buying it in bulk, say like 1 full basket then we store for gradual usage,” a source said, adding that “when the prices become unexpectedly high, we use the manufactured tomato in sachets of 100 FCFA. There was a time tomatoes were so expensive, I sent my daughter to go buy me some and she came back with two fruits for a 100 FCFA. I thought she had played a fast one on me so I went there myself and was told that was the price,” the lady narrated.

Attempts to get reactions from the defenders of consumers’ rights in Cameroon were fruitless.

Government’s statement

Cameroon’s Prime Minister reacted, but that the Yaounde regime has not gone beyond words.

While attributing the situation to the current Covid-19 crisis, Chief Dr. Dion Ngute urged the Ministry of Agriculture to investigate and address the problem plaguing the tomato sector.

“Solutions in support of the tomato sector in distress are being refined. I engaged the Ministry of Agriculture & Mincommerce to carry out further analysis in this regard,” PM Dion Ngute wrote on twitter a few days ago.

“concrete actions are yet to be seen on the ground,” actors in the sector in Yaounde where the concerned ministries are based told MMI:

PM Dion Ngute’s tweet

Way out

Worried MRC party leader, Maurice Kamto believes the current state of affairs could potentially lead to a fall of the tomato industry.

“If nothing is done, Cameroon will be exposed to the outright collapse of this tomato sector. Such a prospect would lead to a rise in unemployment in the main production area West, the Center, Adamawa, and the Northwest regions. If the Government remains in its usual indifference, our country will sustainably compromise the usual income from the marketing of tomatoes, that is, 720 billion per year on the foreign market (CEMAC zone) and 140 billion on the domestic market,” writes Kamto.

He urged the Yaounde government to take considerable measures and save the tomato sector – as thousands of Cameroonians depend on this commodity for their livelihoods.

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