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South Africa: Sought-after East London tomatoes reap revenue from afar

An unassuming yet omnipresent fresh product — that’s the ambivalent status of the tomato in most household and commercial kitchens. And yet, how would our favourite South African bredie or stew, Cape curry, pizza, summer salad, or even a polony sandwich taste without the sweet, sometimes piquant, flavour of tomatoes?

The East London tomato farms, which lie roughly along a 60km stretch between Kwelerha and Kidds Beach, constitute South Africa’s second biggest tomato production area, although there are only about 20 commercial producers contributing to the yield.

It is difficult to get official production and sales figures for tomatoes. But it's clear that local producers hold their own despite three-quarters of the country’s annual production of almost half a billion tonnes of tomatoes coming from the Lowveld area of Limpopo province, with ZZ2 tomatoes alone producing 40% of the country’s total crop.

In the East London area, about 20,000 tons are produced, valued at about R200m, according to Andrew Emslie of Red Baron tomatoes. Up to 95% of locally produced tomatoes are trucked and sold to Pick 'n Pay, Checkers and Spar distribution centres, and on fresh produce markets in Johannesburg, Cape Town and Durban. The remaining 5% are sold in Buffalo City, Nelson Mandela Bay and Mthatha.


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