It has been a disheartening couple of weeks for tomato growers trying to sell their produce in Addis Abeba's markets. A surplus has seen retail prices halved from the 30 Br a kilogramme that consumers paid a month ago, forcing farmers to let their fruits go for as low as seven Birr a kilo. The disappointing returns could discourage the steady growth observed in tomato farming. Farmers cultivated 419,000tn last year, up by a fifth from what they yielded the year before. Yet, what transpired over the weeks points to a much bigger problem lurking behind the agricultural sector – wastage and a lack of advanced agro-processing industry.

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Experts at the Ministry of Agriculture estimate that up to 40pc of fresh produce is wasted before reaching consumers, while a fifth of cereal crops share the same fate. Part of this could be avoided with a robust agro-processing industry extending the shelf life of the perishable produce. However, agro-industrialisation remains in its infancy. The federal government hopes to change this by pouring vast amounts of resources into enormous agro-industrial parks. It plans to build no less than 17 of these installations, thus far opening four. The construction of parks in Bure and Yirgalem alone has eaten up nearly 230 million dollars. They have little to show for it in the year since the facilities were inaugurated. Experts say the time, resources and effort would be put to better use in smaller ventures that are more accessible to smallholder farmers. It is advice policymakers would be wise to hearken to.

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PUBLISHED ON May 07,2022 [ VOL 23 , NO 1149]

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