Tomato farmers record huge financial losses due to COVID-19

Tomato farmers in Cameroon are reported to be currently witnessing huge financial losses this harvesting season as a result of the economic downturn caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The abundance of tomatoes on the market has brought down the price of a basket of tomatoes from 6000 FCFA to 2000 FCFA. Sometimes, the price in some markets go as low as 1000 FCFA .

In an attempt to recover what is left, some farmers freely deliver a basket of tomatoes to homes at the meager cost of 1000 FCFA.

Many are attributing this business hazard to the deadly COVID-19 pandemic that is dealing a huge blow on the economy.

After Cameroon recorded the first confirmed cases on March 6, new infections soon spiraled to worrisome proportions .

In order to contain the spread of the virus, government closed its borders and imposed sweeping preventive measures.

This naturally had a heavy toll on the economy .

Social distancing came along with food shortages, as some food processing companies went on recess, transportation of farm produce to markets became a herculean task.

To make matters worse, Gabon and Equatorial Guinea and Nigeria , which hitherto were lucrative destinations for farm produce from Cameroon, also shut their borders to limit the importation of the virus into the country. Since then, high rates of infection have forced the government of Cameroon , to keep the borders closed.

This has inevitably triggered an economic downturn in Cameroon, with farmers featuring amongst those paying a high price for government’s well-meaning efforts to “Flatten the Curve”.

As the harvesting season approached, the first harvests of tomatoes were greeted with unusually poor sales.

A basket of tomatoes sold at between 3000-4000 in markets across the country.

But as more farmers began to harvest, it became difficult to sell a basket of fresh tomatoes for more than 2500FCFA.

The standard price for a basket of tomatoes ranges between 1500-2000 frs.

The abundance of tomatoes has forced some farmers to abandon left over baskets of the highly-consumed fruits in markets .

The closure of borders by Gabon, Nigeria and Equatorial Guinea is at the heart of this problem.

Over the years, farmers often sold truck loads of fresh tomatoes in these countries with huge gains, but now, it has become absolutely impossible.

Accordingly, farmers have no choice than to sell their produce at a give-away price, exclusively within the country.

Most of these farmers who for the most part took loans from banks and other financial institutions to invest in their farms , are expected to repay their loans.

Unfortunately, they are highly indebted, and business is limping.

The prevailing situation is a major setback to second generation agriculture prescribed by President Biya as a reliable means to generate jobs, feed the population and boost exportation .

Sadly, a good number of tomato farmers are not far from becoming jobless.

Nonetheless, agriculture remains the cornerstone and livewire on which the Cameroonian economy has counted on since independence.

In recent years, there has been a multiplicity of agricultural programmes and projects streamlined to suit the exigencies of the Growth and Employment Strategy Paper (GESP) which remains the guideline to achieve the country’s 2035 vision.

By Momoh Dero in Yaounde

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