Tomatoes are easy to grow, but their seasonal nature remains a headache for ACP producers. On-the-spot processing, whether on an industrial, small business or even household scale, is still the best way of countering the invasion of tomato paste from Europe. The price of these imports leaves no room for competition.

The tomato (Lycopersicon esculentum Mill.) is used in many dishes in ACP countries. Although botanically speaking it is a fruit, its use in cooking makes it the second most widely consumed vegetable in the world, and the most attractive of all horticultural products for farmers. "With potatoes, onions, carrots, etc., you have to dig up the plant to get the fruit. You only get one harvest and then you have to start again from scratch. But with tomatoes, you can get two or three harvests from the same plant", explains Madi Mathieu Kinda, of the Federation of market gardening cooperatives in Bam, a province in the central northern part of Burkina Faso. Global output rose from 107 to 130 million t between 2001 and 2007, according to FAO. Nigeria is the only ACP country to have a significant yield, ranking 17th in the world with an output of more than 1 million t in 2007.

Sell quickly

Tomatoes grow very well in tropical climates, but unfortunately these conditions also make the fruit highly perishable. Even when picked before they are ripe, tomatoes are extremely fragile, do not travel well and tend to rot within a few days. Most African farmers have problems disposing of their crop during the seasonal glut. These difficulties are compounded by insufficient planning of harvests and inadequate infrastructures for packaging, storage and transport. The spread of mobile phones and money transfer systems has helped improve marketing by reducing transaction costs. In Cameroon, tomatoes grown in the west are now sold more quickly in neighbouring countries.

Some West African countries such as Senegal have succeeded in exporting tomatoes to the EU. Senegal exported 8,731 t of fresh tomatoes to the EU (mainly to Belgium, France and the Netherlands) in 2007, out of a total of 472,337 t imported by the EU. Producers who export can sometimes earn double the price they would get for their product from the local market. In northern Senegal, market gardeners put a premium on their work by growing cherry tomatoes, which are highly sought after in Europe as an appetiser or garnish. The country exports around 3,500 t of this variety each year.

A useful substitute for perishable fresh tomatoes in cooking is preserved tomato (puree or paste), which is cheaper and easier to use. Although local demand for these preserves is strong and stable, African producers do not draw much profit from the market. Come harvest time, they have trouble getting rid of their tomatoes, not least because of inadequate preservation and processing units compared with those owned by the competition in China and the EU. Processing units in ACP countries are no match for those that churn out canned tomatoes abroad, especially the paste imported from Italy, which benefits from various types of aid.

Fighting off competition

Between 2004 and 2006, ACP countries imported nearly €150 million worth of tomato conserves from the EU. Between 1995-1997 and 2004-2006, imports of tomato conserves to ACP countries more than doubled. However, there has been a slight slowdown in the trend since 2003. Unfair competition for this high volume import product causes bankruptcies, prompting debt-ridden producers to leave the sector, as has happened in Burkina Faso and Ghana.

An impact study on the sustainable development of the agri-industrial sector in West Africa, funded by the EC, acknowledges that due to the demand for reciprocity introduced by the EPAs, "there is a risk that local markets could be flooded with imports of processed tomatoes...which will threaten local production." The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) is currently holding discussions to increase import duties on double concentrated tomato puree from 20% to 35%. It is also asking the EU as part of the EPA negotiations to classify concentrate as a 'sensitive product' which is therefore exempt from liberalisation.

Nevertheless, some producer countries are holding out and attempting to step up local tomato processing to industrial levels. Two factories are due to open in Burkina Faso and Ghana in 2010. Côte d'Ivoire is planning to open a factory shortly in Bonoua, near Abidjan. In South Africa meanwhile, two processing heavyweights, Giant Foods and Tiger Brands, are selling sauces and puree aimed at the domestic market, made from tomatoes mostly grown by small-scale farmers who, in the case of the latter firm, are under contract.

But adding value to tomatoes on an industrial scale is not the only option for ACP producers. This crop also lends itself to processing into various products by small-scale outfits, requiring little capital outlay. Tomatoes turned into powder, puree and jams become available year-round, as well as a source of income. Old recipes adapted to suit modern tastes add value to the product. Cases in point include sun-dried tomatoes, a process long practised in Burkina Faso and Chad. In Mali, at Baguinéda, about 30 km from the capital, about one thousand women from 24 villages have formed a cooperative for producing and processing fruit and vegetables. By drying tomatoes, they make them available throughout the year and can sell the surplus in Bamako.

Last but not least, processing tomatoes is easily done at household level. You can find a number of recipes in this Practical Guide:

Processing Tomatoes
Practical Guide n° 12
CTA n° 1391
Downloadable from:

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