Morocco introduced new quotas on tomato exports on February 19th, in an effort to boost local supply and lower prices before the fasting month of Ramadan. The high investment costs in the tomato sector, the increase in input prices, pest attacks, cold snaps, and persistent drought have combined to hamper production in the world’s fourth-largest tomato shipper. However, the new quotas adopted in Morocco could exacerbate product shortages that have already caused rationing in some European supermarkets.
According to an official of the Moroccan Association of Fruit and Vegetable Producers and Exporters (APEFEL), the decision was taken after the Moroccan government consulted with growers: “We are in constant dialogue with the Ministry of Agriculture. The producers are aware of the necessity to support our fellow Moroccan citizens as well as to maintain a significant flow to European markets. Tomatoes are a very important product for the domestic market, and their prices have reached an unsustainable level for Moroccan households. This was caused by a temporary shortage of production and amplified by an inadequate marketing system dominated by too many intermediaries.”
APEFEL officials said that this reduction in production was due to adverse weather conditions: ” The region of Agadir, where most of the tomato production is located, is seriously affected by climate change. On the one hand, the heat wave of the autumn period has reached a level of 47 Celsius degrees, and averages of 28 degrees, which has accelerated production. On the other hand, from the middle of January until February 10th, minimal temperatures were too low, ranging from 1 to 6 degrees. This has put the plants under the state of vegetative zero, and productivity dropped from 2000 to only 250-300 kg/ha/day.”
In addition, the round tomato variety affected by the new export quotas has already seen production declines due to the economy, a producer representative said: ” “It is a crop that has been strongly impacted by the persistent drought and the rising production costs. Since the COVID-19 pandemic and the start of the war in Eastern Europe, the round tomato variety is simply no longer profitable even at export, unless it is shipped under favorable sales price contracts. For instance, this season, outside of the mentioned contracts programs, the average price at export didn’t exceed 0.6 euro /kg from October to January 2023, while the cost of production was over 1 euro/kg, even before taxes and customs duties”.
“This has led the growers to reduce their acreage of round tomatoes in favor of other segmentation varieties (cherry, cocktail, and baby plumb, etc.) or to convert greenhouses to red fruit crops altogether, especially since the investment in tomatoes requires huge capital, reaching up to 100 000 Euros per ha capital, and 80,000 Euros of charges per year per hectare. The percentage of the production of segmentation tomatoes exported has increased from 30% to 54% on the detriment of the round tomatoes”. It is worth mentioning that, according to APEFEL, all segmented tomato production is not affected by the quota scheme and is exclusively for foreign market officials.
When it comes to the effectiveness of this adjustment, the results are already evident: “We have put on the local market an additional daily volume of 200-300 tons of round tomatoes, which has lowered the consumer prices. At this level, the decision is justified and effective. With that, we continue to supply the European market with a daily flow of over 1100 tons of round tomatoes, besides the shipment of the entire segmentation tomatoes production.”
Could other crops be subjected to similar exportation quotas adjustments? “Only tomatoes are under discussion with the government, reassures the APEFEL official, the movement of other products is absolutely not affected.”
Although the producers claim that the weather is the primary cause of the decline in productivity, these conditions have improved recently. ” Since February 11, minimal temperatures raised and productivity has increased by almost 30% now. Temperature forecast for this week read highs of 21-25 and lows of 12-14 degrees, this will enhance the production” and to add: “We are in constant consultation with the Ministry of Agriculture and listening to our partners in Europe, hoping to get back to normality soon.
Whether in Morocco or Europe, the producers’ representative concludes by pleading for the adoption of structural solutions in the interest of producers and consumers “The dialogue with our partners in Europe is necessary to revitalize the Interest for the round tomato crop. We need more regulation, all year round, by setting up more contracts and fair prices for all parties. We can not sacrifice producers while supermarkets make excessive margins. There are barriers to the development of the tomato trade, such as export quotas, excessive taxes, and customs duties. Overcoming all these challenges should be our common concern.”