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Spain - Tenerife's tomato sector is walking a tightrope

Tenerife’s tomato sector is facing an increasingly difficult scenario. In addition to the increase in production costs, the competition from third countries and Brexit, this year it has also had to deal with the economic paralysis caused by the pandemic, which has aggravated the crisis that they had been dealing with for several years, as reported by the President of the Association of Tomato Exporters of Tenerife (Aceto), Francisco Echandi. As a result, the export of Tenerife’s tomatoes last season fell by more than 25% compared to the previous one.

Echandi says that with the arrival of the pandemic, buyers began to demand that the product be protected by packaging to avoid contact. “We were ready to export in bulk and when this request came we were forced to leave around 9% of the production unharvested,” given the impossibility of facing these additional costs. This caused the 4.2 million kilos expected to be exported to be reduced to 3.8 million.

In any case, the sector’s representative said that even if the planned 4.2 million had been reached, this figure would still have been considerably lower than the one reached in the previous season, when the island’s sector exported 5.6 million kilos of tomatoes; an amount that is very far from the figures that were recorded 15 or 20 years ago, when the island of Tenerife alone was shipping more than 100 million kilos per year.

Now, in all of Tenerife, barely 35 hectares are cultivated. “Due to all the negative factors that the sector has been facing, people threw in the towel a long time ago. In the past, there were 34 production companies and now there are only two,” he says.

Echandi stated that the Council of Agriculture of the Canary Islands Government, in coordination with the Spanish Ministry, “is trying to come up with formulas to overcome this obstacle.” One of the alternatives would be to increase the amount of aid per hectare cultivated, which now stands at 15,000 Euro; however, “we don’t know if this is feasible, since such proposals may not be accepted by Europe, arguing that it is not logical to maintain a crop that needs so much aid.”

Producers have asked the Administration for “a new plan so that we can continue with the activity,” although Echandi acknowledges that “for the first time in the history of the tomato sector, there have been talks about converting the crops.” In fact, he reports that a new study has been commissioned to look into alternatives in greenhouse cultivation areas, which are now used by the tomato sector. The president of Aceto believes blueberries or papayas are good alternatives to replace tomatoes on the island.

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