According to importers, the most significant problem to the availability of Moroccan tomatoes is down to flooding, cold temperatures and cancelled ferries.
Across the UK a wide range of fresh produce has suffered a major dent to its tomato supply due to challenging growing conditions and logistical problems in Spain and Morocco. Supermarkets have seen empty shelves and where stock is available, items are being rationed to ensure a fair supply to those who need it, and with inflated prices.
In Morocco, growers and suppliers have had to contend with a perfect storm of cold temperatures, heavy rain, flooding, and cancelled ferries over the past month. A combination of these has seriously affected the volume of fruit reaching Britain.
Tomato supply from Britain’s other major winter source, Spain, has also been badly affected by the weather. Tomato volumes from Almeria in weeks 5-7 were down 22 per cent on last year.
As a result, pictures have been circulating of empty supermarket shelves, and food service and catering businesses have had to settle for reduced deliveries as wholesalers try to spread out the limited supply.
To further complicate the matter, Moroccan producers are contending with the emergence of tomato pathogen ToBRV, which has seriously affected tomato yields in a number of countries over recent years.
‘A perfect storm’
Production problems in Morocco began in January with unusually cold night-time temperatures that affected tomato ripening.
These production issues were made worse by ferry cancellations due to bad weather between 9 and 12 February. This led to long tailbacks of vehicles trying to cross from the Port of Tangier in Morocco to the Port of Algeciras in Spain and once heavy rain came down a week later which caused flooding in the Souss Valley near Agadir, the country’s tomato heartland things went from bad to worse. This also resulted to more ferries to Spain being cancelled on 17 February.
There are rumours that the Moroccan government are helping growers mitigate future climate risk by investing in tomato production in the city of Dakhla, where temperatures are more regular and reliable than in Agadir, particularly during January and February. But reports suggest this project could take several years to start having an impact.
Frustratingly, the short term outlook remains somewhat unclear. The weather looks better over the coming weeks but there is a backlog to iron these complications out and return to normal.
Since this article being published, the boards of Apefel, the Moroccan association of fruit and vegetable producers and exporters, and Amcom, the Moroccan association of vegetable packers, have provided an update on the situation in the country.
“As a natural consequence, the daily harvest has dropped sharply, resulting in shortening the supply capacity of packing stations and provisions of the local Moroccan market, as well as markets abroad,” a statement read. “This situation has induced intense pressure from consumers on both sides of the Mediterranean.
“One energetic action has already been taken by preventing opportunistic exporting activities encouraged by high sales prices in some destinations. This type of business is of a nature to perturb the normal flow of merchandise. Only packing stations backed by their production are allowed to export, at least at this period of shortage.”
Both associations reiterated their desire to ensure that the situation was only temporary and ensured huge efforts were being made to balance domestic needs and the engagements of growers overseas.
“We remain optimistic as we advance in the season toward more mild temperatures and increased production to return to a normal situation,” the statement continued. “Our aim and principal objective is to remain as reliable an origin as we are.”