Israeli farmers protest tomato imports

Following a drawn out struggle to overturn proposed government policies last month, Israeli farmers are in protest again. The government approved the tariff free importation of up to 1,500 tonnes of tomatoes from any country in the world, after already issuing approvals for specific shipments of tomatoes from Turkey that are expected to reach markets in the coming days. These actions were taken in an effort to alleviate the severe shortage of tomatoes in the Israeli market in recent weeks which has caused very high prices and drawn widespread criticism.

Despite recently yielding to the demands of the agriculture sector on two key issues, the government’s plan on combating the tomato crisis has raised the ire of the farmers again. From their point of view, allowing artificially cheap imports will only help consumers in the short run, while in the long run it will hurt the local growers and ensure that similar crises will occur in the future. The farmers are also concerned that opening up the market for imports will set a precedent that could see a similar policy brought to other markets.

Instead of the quick fix action taken by the government, the agricultural organizations suggest that subsidizing local farmers and lowering the cost of water for irrigation will allow for a healthy level of local production. According to the Israeli Farmers Federation, the number of agricultural operations in the country has decreased from 70,000 in 2005 to 9,000 this year, an 87% drop that is projected to continue in the coming years. By their estimates, a governmental support budget of 5 billion shekels per year will lead to a 12% decrease in local produce prices and stabilize the sector.
In the meantime, even with the additional exports, the tomato shortage is expected to continue with no indication of lower prices for consumers any time soon.

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