Barely a month ago, tomato was accessible and affordable. This made most women agree that tomato was the only vegetable not affected by the low exchange rate of the local currency. The market for tomato, though pleasant for some farmers and marketers however left many others lamenting huge loss they incurred due to low patronage and its perishable nature.
Suddenly, the hitherto readily available and cheap tomato became scarce and expensive. The same commodity which was accessible is now out of the reach for most people, making many women device an alternative means to prepare their recipes.
Home Front checks showed that in some markets a basket of tomato which was sold for about N1,200 and N1,500 in February now cost between N25, 000 and N37,000 depending on the size of the fruit.
Further investigations revealed that the rise in price is because the produce is now out of season, as according to some marketers it usually goes up from April to July annually. Also blamed for the high scarcity rate is the recent attack of farms by the pest Tuta absoluta, popularly known as ‘Tomato Ebola’, said to be responsible for massive destruction of tomato in some major producing states.
Meanwhile, women who already have to cope with the economic downturn, which so many attribute to the mismanagement of the country’s resources over time and the present administration’s ‘Change’ policy, lament that they are the direct victims of the hike in prices of commodities.
A housewife, Mrs. Eucharia Azubuike said, “Today, tomato is a no go area because it is no longer affordable. It is not available as before.”
Many women shared the view of Mrs. Azubuike that the price is outrageous and unaffordable.
She said a basket that used to sell at N500 is now sold for N3,500 and that a few unripe, small sized tomatoes are sold for N500. She said the situation has led to some adjustments in her menu.
“The one you can get for N500 is unripe and so small that it can only be used with pepper and tatashe to cook jollof but not stew.
“I no longer buy fresh tomato because it is scarce, I use tomato paste and pepper because I can’t afford tomato of N3,500 for just one pot of stew,” she lamented.
For Bosede Oshindere, another housewife, going by the price of tomato in the market, she has resolved not to make stew and has devised an alternative to either cook jollof rice using tomato paste or vegetable with palm oil.
“The last time I asked my girl to buy tomato for me, she came back with a few pieces for N200, I was about sending her back when my neighbour told me that it is quite cheap compared to what she bought for N400,” she said.
Oshindere said it was not compulsory to make stew and she would only return to her soup pot when it was affordable because N400 tomato could not make a pot of soup that could last two days.
A stylist, Mrs. Chinyere Ikenna said the last time she made stew was when there was “tomato everywhere and very cheap.”
She said: “I am not really in the habit of cooking stew all the time, but I remember then I bought N100 tomato it served my family for two days but when I went to buy the same amount, I returned with nothing forcing me to look for an alternative.”
This period, according to her, is not a time when one dwells more on cooking stew with tomatoes “because you will have to spend more than required because of the price and besides the quantity will not serve you as before.
“I normally look for an alternative anytime something becomes rare in the market, so instead of the usual tomato stew, I cook Ofe Akwu (Banga soup) which most of my kids prefer. You don’t need tomato just oil palm to get it prepared and its flavour is better than that of stew aside from it being cheaper,” Mrs. Ikenna said.
She said she used tomato paste to make jollof rice but not stew. “The tomato that early last month cost N100 cannot be bought with N500 now that is how bad it is,” she said.
Another housewife, Mrs. Kenneth, said it was no longer business as usual as the “Change” mantra of the present government has finally caught up with everything.
“I remembered between March and early April we were saying the only product that the increase in exchange rate and change did not affect is tomato because N100 worth will be enough for one pot of stew but now you won’t even see any to buy,” she said.
She said jollof rice was now the popular dish because tomato paste and fresh pepper could be used.
Another housewife, Mama Amina, said she always prepared ahead in case of days of scarcity. She said she bought a lot of tomato when it was in surplus. She said she preserved them for the rainy day like now.
Mama Amina said she was able to store one bag saying, “Anytime I want to cook, I take the quantity I want and soak it in hot water and wash. I take it to grind and add tomato paste to prepare my stew. So the current price of tomato is not affecting me.
However, some women also told Home Front that they no longer buy tomato but use tomato paste and palm oil to make vegetable soup while others said they make use of pepper and oil.
For Mama Mujib who sells soft drinks, she said she does not buy tomato, not even paste because her children don’t like food cooked with tomato paste, so she uses fresh pepper blended with lots of onions to cook, “and it usually comes out tasty and they loved it.”