Tomatoes are one of the most produced vegetables in Tanzania due to their status as a staple and economic horticultural activity for smallholder and commercial farmers across the country. According to Sokoine University of Agriculture (SUA), the sudden increase in tomato production is attributed to easier access to markets and better prospects compared to other traditional crops.
However, despite its promising prospects, tomato farmers are often faced with a number of obstacles in the marketing and production of the crop. The main challenges are attributed to high production costs and the crop's perishable nature which affects the farmers' earnings. In addition, many actors are involved from production to consumption (middlemen) which leads to loss of income for farmers and hiked prices for consumers.
Despite the challenges, there are a number of existing cooperatives and unions that have tried to support and advance the tomato value chain and its markets.
For instance, the 'Tomato Partnership' was established in 2015 through SAGCOT, its primary focus was to expand and optimize the tomato value chain and access to markets by forming a coalition with different partners to mobilise and assist more than 10,000 smallholder farmers in Iringa and Njombe regions.
The partnership included a number of interventions to ensure best practice which included linking farmers with financial institutions to ensure access to proper irrigation equipment, education on the negative impacts of improper agro-chemical applications, capacity building of farmers to improve financial literacy and developing linkages to address the current lack of coordination between tomato value-chain actors.
The World Bank said there are two major markets for tomatoes in Tanzania, which include fresh and processed tomato products. The market for fresh tomatoes which commands a higher price and is more attractive for smallholder farmers is largely untapped with a growth rate of 15 per cent, while commercial farmers find it profitable to sell tomatoes to processors which are pegged to grow at 17 per cent by displacing imports.
The untapped potential for fresh tomatoes presents an opportunity to scale its production for export.
According to allafrica.com this will, however, require investments in cold storage, irrigation systems, greenhouses, an efficient transport network, as well as education in pesticide management and introduction of innovative financial methods to farmers that will ensure stable income generation during the peak and off seasons.