The East London tomato farms, which lie along a 60 km stretch between Kwelerha and Kidds Beach, constitute South Africa’s second biggest tomato production area. Still, there are just about 20 commercial producers contributing to the yield. However, these producers hold their own despite three-quarters of the country’s annual production of almost half a billion tonnes of tomatoes coming from the Lowveld area of Limpopo province. There, ZZ2 tomatoes alone are making up 40% of the country’s total crop.
In the East London area, about 20,000 tons are produced, valued at about R200 mln (€100 mln), according to Andrew Emslie of Red Baron tomatoes. Up to 95% of locally produced tomatoes are trucked and sold to Pick 'n Pay, Checkers and Spar distribution centres, and on fresh produce markets in Johannesburg, Cape Town and Durban. The remaining 5% are sold in Buffalo City, Nelson Mandela Bay and Mthatha.
The Johannesburg market, the country’s biggest fresh produce market, sold an average of R3 mln of tomatoes every day last week, at about R8,05 per kilogram, sourced from local farms and the Lowveld.
Tomatoes have been planted around East London for generations. Farmers grouped into a co-operative model, the East London Tomato Packers, grew to 36 farmers who were supplying between 30-40 refrigerated trucks per week to national markets during the peak summer period.