by Bedah Mengo

The cost of tomatoes in Kenya has doubled as heavy rains hit supply of the essential produce. tomato
The rains have not only disrupted supply of the commodity by damaging roads, but have also led to increased diseases that have affected the crop, particularly for farmers growing in open fields.
The long rains season normally starts in March and ends in May, paving way for a dry season in many parts of the country, save for Nairobi. However, this time, the rains are still ongoing leading to flooding that has caused loss of lives and destruction of property.
According to the Meteorological Department, the rains, which have been above normal, will continue until later this month, affecting production of crops like tomatoes.
Kenyans may brace for a further hike of tomato prices. A 64kg box of the commodity in wholesale markets in the capital Nairobi is going for an average of 62 U.S. dollars, up from 55 dollars weeks ago.
At Wakulima and Muthurwa markets on the outskirts of the city centre, a survey on Monday showed that the commodity is in short supply.
Traders at the markets and others in Nairobi complained of not only low supply but also poor quality of tomatoes, majority of them are affected by diseases.
“If these rains continue into July, then we may not have tomatoes to sell. We are now getting very small tomatoes that cannot stay on our shelves for even three days before they are attacked by diseases,” said Grace Mutuku, a Nairobi trader.
Mutuku is selling a bunch of three big tomatoes at 0.36 dollars, up from 0.10 dollars each two weeks ago. A bunch of three small tomatoes, on the other hand, are going for 0.25 dollars, up from 0. 21 dollars.
“Customers are complaining but I have no choice. Tomatoes are becoming hard to come by. Sometimes I go to the market and do not find them, particularly on Saturday. This means I have to buy them in bulk on Thursday when I go for more supply, but there is also the risk of them going bad,”she said.
When they stay about three days in her stall, Mutuku explained that the tomatoes start rotting from inside.
“Outside they appear good, but inside they start turning brown from one spot and spread as days go by. It is tricky for us because we have to sell them as fast as possible yet prices are going up.”
Some of the diseases and pests affecting the crop are tomato blight, bacterial wilt, aphids, red spider mites, white flies and tuta absoluta.
Tuta absoluta, which is the latest pest, attacks the tomato fruit as it begins to ripen on the stalk and makes it whither.
Unlike the rest, which pesticides to control them are readily available, Tuta absoluta, which originated from South America and came into Kenya from Ethiopia recently, is a headache for farmers, and has destroyed acres of tomato plants, including in greenhouses, according to Ministry of Agriculture.
“Diseases increase during the rainy season, particularly in open fields because the surface water brings pathogens on the farm. Besides that, tomatoes require a warm weather to flourish that is why we encourage farmers to use greenhouses,” said Bernard Moina, an extension officer based in Western Kenya, adding that it is hard to control diseases during the rainy season because pesticides are washed away when sprayed.
Tomatoes, consumed by millions of Kenyans, contribute significantly to inflationary pressure when prices rise. Inflation in May stood at 6.87 percent, down from 7.08 percent in the country. Enditem



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