Thursday, June 29, 2017
The Myanmar Times
The Myanmar Times

Inle quashes competition in tomato war

Strings of workers in the tomato exchange centre wade through piles of tomatoes, looking to pull the ripe red ones from the greens.

Workers at a tomato exchange centre look for fruit that is ripe enough to ship. (Su Phyo Win/The Myanmar Times)Workers at a tomato exchange centre look for fruit that is ripe enough to ship. (Su Phyo Win/The Myanmar Times)

It is a good time to be in the tomato business, at least around Inle Lake. Prices have never been higher in recent memory, and yields are strong. The area is in the lead among Myanmar’s tomato growers, and received a boost by escaping the flooding earlier this year.

U Htay Hlaing, manager of the Kyaw tomato exchange centre, said there are 40 or 50 brokers in Nyaung Shwe selling tomatoes and other produce around the country. The region must compete with similar shops in Monywa, Sagaing Region, which is the second-largest tomato centre after Inle, as well as some smaller-scale farmers near the cities Mandalay and Meiktila.

“It’s not only the armed forces who are in wars. We also have our business wars,” said U Htay Hlaing. “We have to pay transportation costs and commission for brokers, but our tomatoes are the best-quality in Myanmar, far better than Monywa and Mandalay.”

The tomatoes the workers are sorting started out as seedlings in fertile soil, with the growing vines supported by bamboo cane. Farmers then drop off the picked, but still unripe tomatoes at the Nyaung Shwe centre in southern Shan State, where they are ripened in storage. When ready, they are organised by size and then shipped around the country.

When the tomato exchange centres have finished ripening the tomatoes, they are sold around the country by brokers, particularly in the big cities such as Yangon and Mandalay.

Tomatoes are one of the main ingredients in Myanmar curries, and many of them originate from southern Shan State.

The area around Inle Lake produces at least 1900 buckets of tomatoes per day, insiders reckon. With one bucket at 30 viss, that equates to about 93,000 kilograms of tomatoes daily.

Crates of ripe tomatoes are made ready for shipping. (Su Phyo Win/The Myanmar Times)Crates of ripe tomatoes are made ready for shipping. (Su Phyo Win/The Myanmar Times)

One bucket fetches between K28,000 and K33,000, meaning the annual harvest around Inle is worth up to K60 million (US$46,000) every day, which adds up over the May to December tomato season.

While prices are high for the crop, logistics is the major headache in the tomato business.

The tomato buckets are divided into boxes weighing 20 viss each, and then transported around the country. Shipping costs K1000 per box, and brokers receive a 10pc commission.

Each centre in Nyaung Shwe collects at most 200 buckets per day of tomatoes, with volumes dependant on prices.

Ko Han Tun, manager of Shwe Pyi Soe tomato exchange centre, said the industry has seen prices skyrocket from the flooding.

While Shan State producers were spared effects of the July and August heavy rains and rising waters, competitors in Monywa were severely damaged. This lead to prices of K34,000 per bucket in the Inle region – a record price. Recent lows were in 2010, when prices bottomed out at K6000 per bucket – though Ko Han Htun said prices are improving year by year.