MANY TOMATOES farmers at Navrongo and Tono near Bolgatanga in the Upper East Region are said to be committing suicide by drinking the pesticide Dichloro-Diphenyl-Trichloroethane (DDT).
The farmers are reportedly doing this to escape the wrath of bankers because they could not recoup loans taken from banks due to the failure of the Pwalugu Tomato factory to use their tomato glut.
A report presented to Vice President John Mahama in Bolgatanga by the Regional Minister, Mark Woyongo, indicated that so far two of such farmers have already committed suicide in this manner. Many more were said to be gearing up to follow suit to save themselves from embarrassment.
Concerned about the plight of tomatoes farmers in the region, Mr. Mahama directed the Regional Minister to ensure that the Pwalugu Tomato Factory is supplied with tomatoes on credit to at least give some respite and hope to the farmers.
The Vice President was in the region to assess the situation on ground regarding the Bawku crisis.
At a forum held for a cross-section of the farmers at Navrongo they expressed anguish over the situation and said the Pwalugu factory has not been able to buy their products.
They explained that the Pwalugu Tomato factory was revamped by the Kufuor administration, after many years because of a ready market.
The farmers therefore went borrowing from the banks to increase production only to realize that the factory could not buy their produce.
The market queens who travel from Accra to the region to buy from them as their last hope also decided not to buy from them but go as far as Burkina Faso to buy from there.
Those who were ready to buy were prepared to pay as low as GHc 40 as against GH¢1,200 per crate of tomatoes.
The farmers alleged that the market queens were using many flimsy excuses to avoid buying their produce and then smuggle items like cement, roofing sheets and 'Akpeteshie' in exchange of tomatoes from their Burkinabe farmers.
The Regional Director of the Ministry of Food and Agriculture, Roy Ayariga, told the Vice President that the local farmers use the best farming methods for production and therefore allegations by the market queens that the farmers use a lot of chemicals were not true.
He said what the tomatoes produced by the local farmers was the same as those produced in Burkina Faso, stressing that it was not possible for Burkinabe farmers to completely use organic manure in their production.
Mr. Woyongo said as soon as he got the information about the smuggling, he met with the security agents along the borders, urging them to subject the women to vigorous searches.
Vice President Mahama promised government's preparedness to establish the necessary steps to boost and encourage tomato production and processing in the Region as a long-term plan to create sustainable jobs for the people.
He urged the farmers not to commit suicide since that action would only create more problems and difficulties for the families that would be left behind.
Mr. Mahama said he would meet with the Ministers of Trade and Industry, Food and Agriculture, the management of the factory and banking institutions to address the long term problems facing the farmers and the factory.
He later visited the Tomato Factory to assess its needs.
He was conducted round the factory by the Farm Operations Manager of Northern Star Tomato Factory, Kwabena Darkwah.
He told the Vice President that the lack of funds was the main problem hindering its full operation.
According to Mr. Darkwah, the farmers have the capacity to produce enough tomatoes as a raw material to feed the factory for a long time but it does not have enough money to buy the tomatoes from the farmers.
From Wisdom Peter Awuku & Ebo Bruce-Quansah, Navrongo