Every last Wednesday of August, the Valencian municipality of Buñol hosts a unique festival in which more than 20,000 people throw 145,000 kilos of tomatoes to each other in an unusual battle along the streets of the town: La Tomatina.
However, this year the coronavirus has forced the suspension of this internationally known event, which was celebrating its 75th anniversary in 2020, as announced by the Buñol City Council in a statement in April. The decision was announced when the tomatoes had already been planted by the producers, so the big question is what use will be given to those many tons of tomatoes.
José Ramón Mechado is the manager of the Castellon-based cooperative of La Llosa, which is among the ones that should have supplied Buñol with tomatoes this summer. "The 540 crates that we loaded last year for La Tomatina in 7 trucks are empty today. Only some can be saved. The processing plants don't want them and harvesting them would have a higher cost than what we'd get for them. We will resign ourselves to seeing thousands of tons of tomatoes rot in the fields," he says.
Like him, many other producers specialized in the production of tomatoes for this festival will have to leave their crops unharvested in the fields, given the inability to market them through other channels. "As we have said every time we are accused of wasting food, we are talking about a very ripe vegetable that is not suited for marketing, neither fresh nor canned," says Mecho.
The situation of tomato producers is critical. In Buñol, agriculture is a source of income for only 2% of the active population, but the biggest setback will be suffered by producers in the rest of the region who supply products to La Tomatina (Xilxes, La Llosa, Moncófar, Almenara, Benicarló and Hellín). The pandemic has only aggravated the situation that they already denounced in February, when they demonstrated to demand fair prices and decent profitability for their crops.
The City Council has estimated the losses for the municipality at around two million Euro.