Characterization of pre- and postharvest losses of tomato supply chain in Ethiopia
© The Author(s) 2017
Received: 24 July 2016
Accepted: 16 December 2016
Published: 10 March 2017
Tomato has significant economic importance in Ethiopia. Although quantitative evidence is limited, postharvest loss in tomato is considerably high. This study presents qualitative and quantitative postharvest losses of tomato. The study was conducted in 2015 in two districts (Bora and Dugda) located in East Shewa Zone of Oromia National Regional State, Ethiopia, located southeast of Addis Ababa. Primary data were collected from producers (smallholder farmers) and traders via household survey, focus group discussions and key informant interviews as well as estimation of losses based on samples. Secondary data and information were collected from published and unpublished sources.
Results indicate that tomato production is being done by relatively young married individuals who have at least primary level education. About three-quarter of land holding is allocated for vegetable production, which largely takes place under irrigation during dry season. All sample producers sold more than 95% of their tomato produce, mostly to wholesalers as compared to collectors and retailers. Postharvest losses occur at collectors, wholesalers and retailers level. The finding indicates that more than 16% of respondents encounter produce losses due to high incidence of diseases, insect pest and mechanical injuries, each of them accounting for more than 20% of postharvest losses.
The findings from our study underscore that the ability of actors to mitigate postharvest losses is limited due to lack of technical know-how. They also lack necessary support and complementary resources to improve postharvest handling practices and technology.
KeywordsPostharvest management Produce shelf life Value chain analysis Vegetable marketing Vegetable production
In Ethiopia, the vegetable subsector has a vital role in human nutrition and health, farm income generation, poverty alleviation and foreign currency earnings through export and foreign direct investment [2, 5, 10]. Processed products such as tomato paste and tomato juice are produced for export to Somalia, Djibouti and Saudi Arabia, making a significant contribution to the national economy [3, 6]. Ethiopia’s wide range of agro-climatic conditions and soil types makes it suitable for the production of both warm and cool season vegetables [7, 29]. Vegetable crops are suitable for production under intensive systems, where some farmers produce two to three times within a calendar year in Ethiopia . However, vegetable production in the country is constrained by several challenges [5, 9]. Among them, postharvest loss of vegetables such as tomato is of critical importance [30, 37–39].
Postharvest losses (PHL) refer to the losses that occur along the food supply chain, from the farm gate through till it gets on the table of the final consumer. Losses are encountered along the chain in the handling, storage, transportation and processing, thereby resulting in a reduction in the quantity, quality and market value of agricultural commodities [4, 19, 27]. Within developing countries’ context and in Ethiopia particularly, concerns about reduction of quantitative losses (i.e., weight, volume or total wastage of agricultural produce) are of higher priority than qualitative losses such as loss in edibility, nutritional quality, caloric value and consumer acceptability of the produce. It is also known that, in general, qualitative losses are much more difficult to assess than quantitative losses.
The main causes of postharvest losses include mechanical damage, physiological deterioration and biological (i.e., postharvest diseases and insect pests) [1, 11, 19, 26, 27, 32]. Rodents and birds also cause postharvest losses, especially in fruits such as tomatoes , although such losses tend to be relatively small for vegetables compared to damages due to rough handling, poor packaging and quality losses caused by temperature stress . In some cases, postharvest losses of vegetables such as tomato are also attributed to socioeconomic and institutional factors, viz. inadequate marketing information and support systems, inappropriate transportation facilities, unfavorable government policies, inability to implement regulations and legislations, lack of appropriate tools and equipment, lack of technical know-how and poor maintenance culture for existing facilities and infrastructure [19, 28, 35]. In most developing countries such as Ethiopia, roads are not adequate for proper transport of horticultural crops, while transport vehicles and other modes, especially those suited for fresh horticultural perishables, are in short supply. Moreover, the extent of losses is significantly influenced by preharvest conditions and field operations such as cultivar and soil types, crop management practices, poor weather conditions, insect pest control programs and harvesting as well as packaging and handling practices .
Moreover, postharvest losses vary greatly with commodities, production areas and seasons as well as the level of development of infrastructure and technology for postharvest management and market system [15, 18–20, 22, 23]. Vegetable postharvest loss in Ethiopia could be as high as 40%. However, quantitative and qualitative assessment information of postharvest losses of vegetables in Ethiopia remains scarce and is mostly based on guess estimates [30, 37–39] as opposed to formal quantitative field surveys. Despite the rich knowledge of postharvest losses in tomato production and marketing in the world, there is huge knowledge gap in postharvest handling and management in Ethiopia. The extent of losses is also not known with reasonable accuracy. There exists only little recent quantitative and systematic evidence on the magnitude of postharvest losses in tomato production and marketing in Ethiopia [16, 30]. Even so, these studies mostly considered a range of horticultural crops that exclude tomato. The objective of this paper therefore is to generate country-specific knowledge in tomato regarding the production system, postharvest management and losses and analyze the factors responsible for such observed losses. The remaining part of the article describes the study area and methodology, key findings of the study and conclusions that trigger policy interventions.
Description of the study area
The study area also shares major challenges faced by vegetable producers in the country. The challenges include lack of capacity in terms of knowledge and skill gap for postharvest loss management and limited access to viable produce markets.
Data collection and analysis
Data for the study were collected from primary and secondary sources in December, 2014. Secondary data and information were collected from desk reviews and unpublished raw data collected from the Central Statistical Agency (CSA). Primary data were collected from producers (smallholder farmers) and traders via one-on-one survey (producers and traders), focus group discussions (FGD) and key informant interviews. The producers’ survey covered five sampled kebeles 1 involving 155 sample households drawn from both districts, while the traders’ survey covered 56 traders—29 wholesalers, 5 collectors and 22 retailers. The sampled producers were equally distributed among the kebeles (31 from each kebele), while the proportion of female farmers interviewed was 11%. A structured questionnaire was designed and used for the one-on-one quantitative interview. The questionnaire covered diverse issues such as tomato production, produce utilization, marketing, postharvest handling, transportation, postharvest losses and its management and factors causing postharvest losses.
Moreover, a physical fresh produce quality survey was also conducted to determine the type, extent and causes of postharvest losses. In total, tomato samples were randomly collected from 45 sampled producers and traders. Two kilograms of tomato was purchased from each of the sampled respondents on a random basis. Digital weighing scales were used to measure the weight of tomatoes purchased. Damaged tomato was sorted based on physical damage, damage by diseases and insect pests, wilting, damage due to deformity or color. Sorting was made with replacement after the weight of tomato classified under a particular damage category was recorded. In addition, an MM laboratory thermometer was used to measure pulp temperature of tomato and corresponding ambient temperatures of the produce.
Moreover, information that complements quantitative data was collected through focus group discussion (FGD) with group of producers and key informants interview (KII). Two FGDs were conducted in two of the sample kebeles (i.e., one for each district with 10 producers in each kebele). Key informant interviews were also conducted with relevant district-level agriculture offices and farmers’ cooperative union. In total, eight district agriculture office experts and two farmers’ cooperative union representatives were interviewed as key informants in both target districts. In-depth discussion on production system, postharvest losses, and production and marketing constraints and opportunities were undertaken during the FGDs and KIIs. Moreover, horticulture experts at district and Farmers’ Training Centers were interviewed as key informants on extent of tomato postharvest losses and possible causes of such losses. The primary data were augmented with secondary data collected from various publications based on national and international studies. The data collected were encoded and entered into Microsoft Excel spreadsheets and Statistical Package for the Social Science (SPSS) Software version 21 package. Data obtained from various sources were also triangulated, checked for consistency and analyzed.
Results and discussion
Demographic characteristics of producers
Proportion of producers by demographic profile
Average age (N = 64)
Average household size
Gender (N = 64)
Marital status (N = 64)
No formal education
Experiences (year) (N = 56)
Demographic profile of tomato traders
Proportion of traders by demographic profile
Percent of traders
Gender (N = 56)
Marital status (N = 56)
Educational level of traders (N = 56)
No formal education
Experiences (in year) (N = 56)
Average household size (mean value)
Vegetable production including tomato is largely practiced under irrigation using water pumped from nearby lakes and from over 5000 shallow wells dug for irrigation. Based on information elicited from the KIIs, 15,547 rural households are engaged in irrigated production of vegetables in the study districts. More than 90% of these households use irrigation for vegetable production. Similarly, the survey findings indicate that 99% of the vegetable producers practice irrigated farming, while 34% produce vegetables under rain-fed conditions, with no significant difference between the two districts. The FGD results also show that tomato is preferably produced during the dry season under irrigation mainly to reduce risks of diseases and insect pests. Irrigated production of vegetables including tomato is undertaken twice a year, from January to June with irrigation only and from September to December with supplementary irrigation.
Tomato is a major vegetable grown in the study area with the survey results indicating that about 47% of the sampled farmers produce tomato. The survey result also indicates that households on the average allocate around 44% of their farmland (0.74 ha) for tomato production. The total output per household is about 24 tons per season. The average yield of tomato is 39.8 tons/ha showing considerable variability between sampled farmers. The productivity of tomato at farm-gate level is fairly comparable with yield potential under research field for tomato in Ethiopia . Based on the area allocated for tomato production and the average yields, the total supply of the produce from the two districts was estimated at 387,567 tons per annum.
Marketing of tomato
As it is indicated earlier, a significant proportion of the tomato harvest are meant for sales in various cities/towns within Ethiopia, implying that production of the crop is commercially driven and access to market is crucial to improve household incomes. The survey results indicate that about 98% of tomato was sold during the last production season. The remaining 2% was used for different purposes, including family consumption and gift to neighbors. The tomato supplied to the market is also subjected to quality and quantity loss, as also discussed in the subsequent sections.
Village collectors and cooperatives buy very small proportion of the produce. Some farmers especially women also sell small quantities of tomato in the open market to consumers. However, the FGDs results indicate that producers have limited access to wholesalers. The transaction to wholesalers is exclusively through brokers who play a dominant role in facilitating trade between producers and wholesalers. They link the wholesalers to the producers at farm gate or local wholesalers who operate at smaller scale to larger wholesalers in other cities/towns. Only 10–15% of producers sell the produce through retailers, and fewer farmers sell through other lesser known channels. Not surprisingly, the quantity of tomato sold through these channels is smaller (5%).
Moreover, the survey results indicate that the majority of the urban collectors or local wholesalers supply to the larger wholesalers coming from other towns (83%) and are often called gap fillers. More than 40% of them also sell to urban small retailers. The result indicates that all wholesalers in main cities are registered companies, while the majority of the urban collectors/local wholesalers are informal and not registered as a trade company. This implies that the majorities of these traders are not recognized and lack access to requisite institutional support.
Proportion of traders by their main trading activities (%)
Traders by some features of their tomato business
Member of associations (%)
Size of association (# of members)
Collaborating with brokers (%)
Collaborating with retailers (%)
Collaborating with wholesalers (%)
Tomato price determination
Average buying and selling prices of tomato in the study districts (ETB/100 kg)
Collector (N = 5)
Wholesaler (N = 34)
Retailer (N = 22)
Postharvest handling of tomato
Proportion of traders by how they transport vegetables (%)
Means of transporting purchased tomato by buyer
Vegetable traders, who do not transport the product directly from field/farm to their business center, receive the produce from their suppliers/partners transported to their business area. Most of the collectors and retailers receive the produce transported by the sellers. The suppliers used different modes of transport to bring tomato to the buyers. Vehicles (own and rented) are the most common means of transport followed by animal-drawn cart used by suppliers to deliver tomato to collectors and wholesalers. Retailers receive tomato transported by human and carts only.
Traders stating the form the incoming produce is delivered to their business center (%)
Form of deliver
Proportion of traders by where they store tomatoes (%)
Place of storage
Cooperative’s storage place
I don’t store
Several studies have reported high postharvest losses due to poor packaging, inadequate storage facilities and poor means of transportation using human labor, donkeys and mules, public transport and rented trucks . Such losses can be reduced by harvesting produce at optimal maturity, through grading, packaging and careful handling of the produce, maintaining higher sanitation standards, decreasing injury incidence and maintaining good storage and environmental conditions [14, 37–39]. Moreover, treatment combinations such as low temperature, waxing, low oxygen and high carbon dioxide storage and ethylene inhibitor such as calcium chloride treatment have been reported to have the potential to extend the storage life of fresh produce such as tomatoes . Moreover, some literature also claims that tomatoes could be marketed at premium quality if lower storage temperatures were accessible and encouraged private sector to provide such facilities particularly in urban markets where retail prices will merit such investments. In general, maintaining appropriate storage of vegetables can minimize moisture loss and wilting, slow down respiration rate, prolong shelf life and inhibit development of decay-causing pathogens.
Proportion of tomato value chain actors stating of tomato traded (%)
Type of trading activity
% of respondents
Average quantity traded (ton)
% loss (measured)
% loss (perceived)
The sample producers sold an average of about 22 tons of tomato per single production season of which 3.7% was lost due to spoilage. The result indicates about 21.46 tons of tomato was sold by the producer household to different market actors, while the remaining balance was used in different ways (consumption, gift, etc.). As it is shown in Table 9, wholesalers traded about 22.48 tons of tomato per week, while the percentage loss is more than double in the case of retailers who handle about 0.13 tons of tomato per week. Retailers buy and sell smaller quantities of tomato, hold the produce for relatively longer time and encounter larger percentage losses. Samples collected from producers and traders measured the actual level of loss due to damage and poor quality. As can be seen in Table 9, these estimated measured levels are lower than the perceived losses of producers and traders.
Percent of tomato observed having undesirable quality (physical) characteristics
Causes of poor quality
On the other hand, among the wholesalers, over 40% of tomato was affected by disease. Retailers were also engaged in marketing of low-quality fresh produce due to varied factors. Undesirable color and deformed shape of the produce are serious problems across the value chain. The respondents partly attributed to the poor-quality tomato sold in the market along the value chain to nutrient deficiency during the plant growth.
The findings are also consistent with the findings of other authors. Hussen et al.  for example found out that inadequate storage and transportation facilities, diseases and insect pests are found to be significant factors contributing to postharvest losses in horticultural crops. Lack of storage facilities forces the value chain actors to dispose of tomato even if the prices are low. According to Teka , the farmers store tomato when the price gets low for an average of 3 days. Due to lack of well-ventilated storage facilities and adequate, reliable and timely market information, farmers are forced to dispose of their produce within a short period even if the selling price is low. Efforts made to apply modern postharvest handling practice (such as curing, grading and storing) to increase the shelf life of tomato are low . Knowing this lack of ability and facilities to store tomato for long, wholesalers put pressure on producers to sell at low price.
High temperature is one of the factors for enhanced postharvest loss of tomato. The climate of most zones of Ethiopia is characterized by high ambient temperature combined with low relative humidity, which has a negative effect on tomato quality during harvesting, transportation, storage and marketing. Under such conditions, using methods such as the forced ventilation evaporative cooling system is expected to effectively reduce postharvest loss and prolong shelf life of tomato .
Average ambient pulp temperature of tomato taken from actors (°C)
Proportion of value chain actors stating reasons for loss of tomato (%)
Producers (N = 44)
Wholesaler (N = 29)
Retailer (N = 22)
Unfavorable weather condition
Disease and pests
Damage during harvest
Delay of harvesting
Damage during transport
Lack of market
Damage during packing
Practices to reduce produce loss
Proportion of value actors using different means to reduce spoilage (%)
Practice to reduce spoilage
Producers (N = 60)
Wholesaler (N = 29)
Retailer (N = 22)
Collect during cool weather
Careful handling during harvest
Store under shade
Store in a cool place
Take care during transport
Use padding/cushioning material during transport
Harvest after buyers identified
Sell at lower price
Summary and conclusions
Significant postharvest losses occur along the tomato value chain with detrimental effects on the incomes of smallholder farmers and traders. About a quarter of tomato produced is damaged and puts out of normal use. The forms of damage include physical or mechanical damage, disease and/or insect pest infection, and/or poor shape, color and size of produce or combinations of these factors thereof. At farm level, postharvest loss is a continuum of disease and pest attack, lack of access to appropriate tools and skills during harvesting, poor postharvest handling and lack of market to sell the produce immediately after harvest. Postharvest loss which occurred at one value chain node extends to the other chain actors and also aggravates along the value chain due to poor handling, transporting, storage and ambient temperature which deteriorate the produce quality. Fresh produce handling and marketing facilities such as cooling facilities are lacking. To reduce the postharvest losses of tomato, serious interventions are needed, including skill building to improve preharvest crop management practices, capacity for postharvest handling including cool storage, improving market information, facilities and services.
Kebeles are the lowest administrative unit below district in Ethiopia.
Ethiopian Horticulture Development Agency
Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations
focus group discussion
key informant interview
United States Department of Agriculture
World Food Logistics Organization
World Vegetable Center
NN and VA-S designed the research concept idea. NN, VA-S and -BE developed the data collection tools. AA, DK and HM participated in data collection with backstopping from BE as lead. BE led the data analysis and drafting of the manuscript. NN and VA-S contributed to review of data analysis, writing and proof reading of the paper. All authors read and approved the final manuscript.
Dr. Bezabih Emana is an Agricultural Economist and General Manager of HEDBEZ Business & Consultancy PLC, an independent consulting firm in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Mr. Ngoni Nenguwo is a Postharvest Specialist and Technical Leader of the World Vegetable Center (WorldVeg)’s 5-year USAID-funded postharvest program (2012–2017) based in Arusha, Tanzania. Dr. Victor Afari-Sefa is an Agricultural Economist, Acting Regional Director, West and Central Africa & Global Theme Leader—Consumption of WorldVeg and based in Bamako, Mali. Dr. Amsalu Ayana is a Seed Systems Specialist working as a Program Manager for the Integrated Seed System Development Program of Ethiopia funded by the Dutch government and an Associate of HEDBEZ Business & Consultancy PLC. Dereje Kebede and Hedija Mohammed are both Research Associates of HEDBEZ Business & Consultancy PLC, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
The support for this research work was provided by the Bureau for Food Security, US Agency for International Development, under the terms of Award No. AID-BFS-IO-1200004 through: The World Vegetable Center, Eastern and Southern Africa in Arusha, Tanzania. The opinions expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the US Agency for International Development.
The authors declare that they have no competing interests. They have, of course, personal and professional interests in conducting baseline and impact assessment studies and innovations in postharvest handling and marketing of vegetable produce, the findings of such studies and success of applicable innovations in postharvest management for Ethiopia for food and nutrition security policy implications.
Availability of supporting data
The data sets supporting the results of this article are available upon request.
Ethical approval and consent to participate
Appropriate ethical clearance was sort verbally from the sector Ministry of Agriculture and local government authorities and respective communities prior to the study. All respondents who participated in the field study were duly informed about the purpose of the study and their right to decline participation in the study, and verbal consent was obtained from all participants prior to interviews.
Funding for this study was provided by the Bureau for Food Security of the US Agency for International Development, Washington, D.C., USA via the World Vegetable Center (WorldVeg).
Open AccessThis article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons license, and indicate if changes were made. The Creative Commons Public Domain Dedication waiver (http://creativecommons.org/publicdomain/zero/1.0/) applies to the data made available in this article, unless otherwise stated.
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