Like all nations have their selection of staple goods, for Jordan, the tomato (aka, the bandora) sits comfortably at the top of the stack, right next to bread, rice and, to a lesser extent, chicken. Whenever the price of any of these goods enters threatening economic territory, you can expect to feel the panic pick up socially. It seems everywhere you go these days, the price of tomatoes in Jordan has become water cooler conversation.
To give a scale of things, the Ministry of Agriculture stated that the current demands of the local marketplace for tomatoes is around 800 tonnes per day, with supply derived from local production not exceed 250 tonnes. Per day? That can’t be right. Well we do eat a lot of tomatoes.
The lack of supply saw the government deciding to import tomatoes for the first time in 15 years. I haven’t checked, but the price of a kilo of tomatoes has probably exceed two dinars, when it was less than one only a short while ago. Suffice to say, all Jordanians, and especially the poor, are feeling the pinch of bad bandoranomics, something that is especially interesting to see manifest in an election season. At first, I even thought the government was trying to make tomatoes too expensive a cliche to throw at aspiring politicians. But in all seriousness, how many candidates running for these upcoming elections are even talking about agricultural policies or stabilizing the marketplace of staple goods?
This isn’t a fleeting issue; it is currently deemed a national crisis by the Jordan Farmers Union. Heck, the Consumer Protection Society has even said that â€œchaos”, “uncertaintyâ€ and â€œirrationalityâ€ govern the management of the tomato crisis, claiming that “the agriculture ministry’s plan to handle the crisis is neither scientific nor practical [but] seemingly dictated by tradersâ€™ wishes”.
As far as current national issues go – it doesn’t get any bigger than that.
Yasser Abu Hilala wrote an interesting piece in which he rightly said: “for the citizen, the box of tomatoes is more important than the ballot box.” Abu Hilala also notes that both boxes are intertwined to some degree, as any attempt to fix the spiraling situation will involve policy actors on all levels, as manifested in both the national budget and the government’s general agricultural policies – both of which fall under the parliament’s domain of approval. But of course, Abu Hilala indicates how futile members of parliament are when it comes to playing their elected role, focusing instead on personal political pursuits and forgetting about the farmer.
Suffice to say, the issue of bandoranomics – the extent to which a fluctuation in the price of a key staple good in Jordan can have a wide social, economic, and political impact – is incredibly timely with the ongoing election season. It presents nothing short of a grand opportunity for candidates to talk about agricultural policy in a country where agriculture has long been a wedge issue for consecutive neo-liberal governments that would rather see the sector slowly sink away, and its workers finding a new line of work that is, from their perspective, more profitable and less costly for Jordan. Ironically, these market blips are a harsh reminder as to why agriculture is still a vital sector that needs to be supported instead of dismantled.
While political focus will always be on the bigger ticket items like energy, taxes, or wages, this current fluctuation in the market place is a bold demonstration of how such a small product can have massive short run impact in a matter of days, and long run impact that could last awhile.
So if you’re venturing in to any election tents in these next few days and weeks, make sure to ask the candidate where the stand on agricultural policies, or export policies, and what they think should be done to avoid tough bandora situations in the future.
And if they dodge the question, throw some strawberries at them.
Or, alternatively, simply don’t vote for them.
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I am sure you saw the article on the elections in Foreign Policy, it would be great to hear your thoughts..