RABAT - Morocco’s tomato harvest has been hit hard by a parasitic leech known as the white fly, cutting annual production by 40 percent and sending tomato prices in the local markets soaring.
Despite efforts to protect harvests, the white fly has attacked all tomato growing areas in Morocco, farmers said.
The Moroccan Fruits and Vegetables Producers Association blamed the Moroccan Agriculture Department for ignoring farmers’ complaints against the white fly threat.
"All our efforts to fight the fly were to no avail in the absence of the State intervention," said Ahmed Rafai, a farmer and member of the association.
As a result, tomato prices increased sharply, from two Dirhams per kilogram, to 9 Dirhams (about 75 US cents). For Moroccans, the higher prices turned tomatoes, a basic vegetable in their daily diet, into a luxury produce, unaffordable for most of the population.
Some 13 percent of Morocco's 29 million population live under the poverty line of $1 a day.
Vegetable farmers warned that prices would continue their rise, especially during Ramadan, the Muslim holy month of fasting, when all Moroccan families make tomato-based soups to break their fast.
Agriculture officials suggested that farmers double the plastic of greenhouses, to curb the white fly affect. But, farmers argued that such a move requires additional funds which they cannot afford.
Morocco's tomato exports have also been affected, officials said without giving further details.
Morocco’s main export partners are the European Union, the United States of America, Canada, and the Arab Gulf nations, Morocco’s traditional trade partners.
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