April 29, 2020 / 11:36 PM / in a month

Mexican farmers give away tomatoes as demand squashed by coronavirus

MEXICO CITY, April 29 (Reuters) - Mexican tomato farmers are so hard pressed to sell their product at home or abroad due to the disruptions caused by the coronavirus outbreak that they have had to donate some of their produce to food banks or use it to feed cattle.

Demand for tomatoes from Sinaloa, Mexico’s top tomato-producing state, dropped by 40% in some areas among growers that supply businesses ranging from hotels to fast food chains including Subway and McDonald’s, farmers said.

All growers have been hard hit by U.S. and Mexican government orders to suspend operations at non-essential businesses and advice for the public to stay at home, in spite of efforts by farmers to sell to outlets that are still open, such as supermarkets.

“A considerable amount of the harvest has been given away to food banks and other private aid institutions,” said Enrique Rodarte, president of the Rio Culiacan farmers’ association in Sinaloa. “Sometimes it’s more than (the bank) can take.”

Rodarte estimated 10 to 15% of the harvest had been given away in the northwestern state, and that nearly 30% of production was halted early as some farmers laid off day laborers or simply lost their produce.

“Throwing it away or allowing it to spoil has been minimal because (some) is given to cattle, but that is throwing it away because I don’t grow tomatoes to give them to cows,” he added.

Rodarte said that although the situation has improved slightly during April, some farm laborers have gone back to their home states in southern and western Mexico due to concerns that they would not be able to return during the lockdown.

Mexico currently plans to ease quarantine measures at the end of May, but Rodarte was concerned the crisis could deepen if restaurants stay closed beyond next month, when Baja California and central Mexican states begin tomato production.

“We’re all fighting to (sell to) supermarkets, and the one that’s been with them longest is the one that stays,” said Rodarte, noting that the smallest producers tended be most under threat.

Beer, avocados and tomatoes were Mexico’s top agricultural exports in 2019, according to official government figures. Tomato exports were worth some $2 billion, of which some 70% went to the United States, the data showed. (Reporting by Sharay Angulo; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)

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