Tomato scarcity: How Nigerians are coping
It is no longer news that tomatoes, an essential commodity, has become scarcer than hen’s teeth and more expensive than a litre of petrol. From Lagos to Ibadan and Imo to Abuja, everyone has been feeling its absence. While Nigerians are lamenting the skyrocketing prices of the food staple, many have decided to look for alternatives in the face of dwindling purchasing power.
A visit to any market would immediately alert you that something is amiss as most traders that previously dealt in tomatoes and pepper have moved on to trade in other commodities, lamenting that they suffered massive losses daily.
A visit to the popular Mile 12 Market located in the Ikosi-Isheri Local Council Development Area (LCDA) reveals that the tomato scarcity situation has gotten to unbelievable heights. A four-litre paint container of tomato (a.k.a Ike Oda) retails between N2, 000 and N3, 000, depending on your bargaining power and the state of the tomatoes in question. This same amount previously retailed for N400 in the not too distant past. Small baskets (ilarin basket) cost between N10, 000 and N12, 000 while the big baskets go for N35, 000 – N38, 000, which previously sold between N10, 000 and N15, 000.
A bag of fresh rodos (chilli pepper) cost N15, 000 while the not so fresh, smaller ones cost between seven thousand and N10, 000. Many shoppers spotted in the market could not afford the high prices and while a few opted for esha (rotten tomatoes and pepper), others went ahead to buy the dried tomatoes and pepper (ata gbigbe).
A woman who identified herself as Mrs. Toyin Omotayo lamented the exorbitant prices of foodstuffs and begged the government to come to the people’s aid. “Everyone knows pepper becomes scarce and expensive at a particular time of the year but this year seems worse. I have stopped buying fresh pepper a long time ago and I rely on the dried variety. The only problems I have with the dried one is that it doesn’t have a good taste, the stress associated with preparing it, and it also makes the stew very dark but what option do I have? I cannot use my whole salary on pepper alone,” she said.
Another buyer who refused to be named said that she also has stopped buying fresh pepper and tomatoes ever since they became expensive and relies on dried pepper, which she mixes with tinned tomatoes to make stews and soups. “I buy the dried tatashe (bell peppers) and rodo and I grind it with a lot of onions. Then I use the tinned tomato in place of fresh tomatoes and it tastes just as great as far as I’m concerned.”
According to Mrs. Ime Ukpong who runs a restaurant in the Ogba area of Lagos, the price of fresh tomato is so high that she would need to spend not less than N4, 000 daily to prepare stew. She said: “We are used to using fresh tomatoes together with the canned type. You can’t believe it that N4, 000 worth of fresh tomatoes will not be enough for me to prepare stew daily for sale of my food, which before now I used not more that N1, 000. Even tomato paste has increased in price.
“So, I have a way I handle it. My customer soaks dry pepper (tatashe) in water overnight for me. Then I mix it with dry tomatoes and fresh rodo and grind, and then add canned tomato when preparing it. I have discovered that the longer the stew stays, the richer it becomes in thickness because the dry products soften. The taste is somewhat different but all the same, it saves the situation.”
A housewife, Mrs. Edith said that for jollof rice, which she used to prepare with canned and fresh tomatoes, she has resorted to using only the paste. For white rice, she prepares stew with dry pepper and tomato paste and adds plenty of onion and leafy vegetable like ugu, which she said is quite healthy.
Many others who spoke to The Guardian confirmed that dried peppers and tinned tomatoes have become their preferred options for preparing stews pending when the prices come down. Another woman popularly called Mama Togo, who runs a food canteen in the Surulere area of Lagos, lamented the high prices as well saying that she has had to remove jollof rice from her food menu because she was incurring massive losses daily due to the high price of pepper.
Tinned tomatoes, which many Nigerians rely upon now, are no longer so cheap. Traders have blamed the fall of the naira for the skyrocketing prices and in a bid to meet the needs of Nigerians while still making profit, all manner of tomato paste have flooded the market. Some, as The Guardian gathered, have no country of production, NAFDAC registration number and no manufacturing nor expiry date.
The size that previously sold for N100 – N120 now sells for N180 – N200 while the size which now costs N300, is up from N200. Even the lesser-known brands are expensive, though not as expensive as the well-known names. Many Nigerians are ignoring the fact that some of these tomato pastes may be dangerous for consumption, because as Mama Togo says, “We have to eat, one way or the other.”
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