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PROFILE - Crywell Jere emptying a crate of decaying tomatoes at New Soweto market garbage dumpsite in Lusaka. The tomatoe price has plummeted from K450 a box in May this, to lower than K50.00 in August. PICTURE: BRIAN MALAMA

Turn tomato waste into paste

TOMATO is one of Zambia’s most important vegetables, through scientifically it is a fruit. People consume it every day.
It is good that, as the country diversifies from its copper-dependent economy to agriculture, besides other economic activities, tomatoes are among produce being cultivated in large quantities both commercially and on a small scale by local farmers.
The availability of the vegetable, in large quantities and at affordable prices for that matter, in every part of the country today attests to the fact that farmers are now able to effectively use advanced technology during the dry season, such as irrigation, as opposed to solely depending on rain for agricultural production.
However, though the current tomato yield is unprecedented, as evidenced by its abundance on the market, it is extremely unfortunate that the produce is going to waste.
The situation at Lusaka’s Soweto Market, where tomatoes worth thousands of Kwacha are rotting every day, is a sad reflection on the commodity’s poor sales, as well as its wastage, countrywide. The National Union for Small-scale Farmers of Zambia should be commended for coming up with plans to set up coldroom facilities to preserve crops.
What is happening now in this segment of the local economy has once again underscored the need for value addition to raw materials, not only in agriculture, but various other sectors, too.
Government, the private sector and other stakeholders, including small and medium entrepreneurs, should actualise the nation’s capacity to add value to raw materials by establishing processing industries and plants.
This should supplement the promotion of the economic diversification agenda through the country’s major blueprints, namely the Seventh National Development Plan and Vision 2030, among others.
As a nation, we should always remind ourselves of the importance of value addition – the process of changing or transforming a product from its original state to a more valuable state.
Hence, as farmers are being encouraged to diversify into different crops, for instance, there is need to invest in processing industries which should, in turn, enable transformation of a particular raw material into various products and diversify their use in the food industry.
If Zambia had proper processing technology, tomatoes at Soweto Market and other places in the country would not have been going to waste, as the country would have had the capacity to turn them into sauce, soup, juice, or jam, among many other products. Amidst such a loss that we have allowed as a country, the irony is that we will continue importing tomato paste.
Through this wastage, farmers and traders have lost valuable incomes. Losses are even reflected by the drop in the price of the commodity which, in May this year, was fetching K450 per box, but today the same quantity is selling at less than K50.
As the country continues focusing on this urgent need to begin adding value to produce such as tomatoes, all stakeholders in various economic sectors should actively work towards addressing poor technology, lack of proper storage facilities and transport systems.
The pineapple plant which is being established in North-Western Province is as a result of the fact that the region produces the fruit in abundance and, therefore, the venture is strategic. Therefore, this is the trend that should be replicated in other provinces, too.
For instance, rice processing industries should be thriving in Western Province, meat processing and shoe manufacturing factories should be established in various parts of Southern Province, Luapula should have well-established fish processing industries, while Eastern Province could be a hub of manufacturing plants specialising in textile and other cotton products.
This will not only raise incomes for local farmers and businesses, but will also create jobs, curb the rural-urban drift, empower households economically, enable the country to export a variety of finished goods and, ultimately, result in national development.
Value addition to raw materials, including tomatoes, should be our goal and work must begin now.