March 4. 2024. 11:09

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How climate change is killing the Bulgarian pink tomato

The pink tomato, first grown in the Bulgarian village of Kurtovo Konare over 125 years ago, is losing a battle with a deadly enemy, the mining moth – and farmers are running out of weapons to fight it. EURACTIV Bulgaria reports.

As coordinator of Slow Food for Bulgaria – a non-profit association for the preservation of traditional, food and cultural diversity – she explained that Kurtovo Konare is a historical place for Bulgarian agriculture as it is where the first pink tomatoes were grown.

The life of the local community has been permanently connected with vegetable production for decades. More than 10 years ago, the community centre started a pepper and tomato festival, which continues to this day.

Now the farmers of Kurtovo Konare are in the Slow Food network, as some local fruits and vegetables are stored and grown in the area.

The Kurtovo Konare pink tomato has a very thin skin, which makes it difficult to transport, but its advantage is that it is very durable – it can last more than 10 days without rotting and retains its taste.

Efforts to commercially promote an indigenous crop such as the pink tomato were initially successful.

“Interest in it started to grow – because it is tastier, because it is a product with history and identity. People started coming and looking for this particular pink tomato, they recognise it in the market, the sown areas started to increase, it came out of the yard and started to become a commodity,” Dimitrova said.

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Climate already a problem

The changing climate is having an effect on the community’s efforts to grow the crop, however.

Warming temperatures have meant increasing numbers of mining moth larvae are able to survive the winter, resulting in a steady growth in the population of the moths, which feed on the tomatoes, in Kurtovo Konare.

Moreover, in recent years, rainfall in the region has peaked in June, which is atypical for the area. The resultant moisture and heat cause fungal pathogens to develop.

“After the June rains, droughts follow, which also means a lot of watering and cultivation becomes very labour-intensive,” farmer Emilia Shusharova from Kurtovo Konare told EURACTIV, explaining that “it is increasingly difficult and desperate to preserve the authentic pink tomato, which is not so resistant to climate change and pests.”

Presently there are no safe and effective pesticides for the production of the pink tomatoes. Consequently, the crop is rapidly becoming a non-viable option for farmers.

State support

The Bulgarian state agricultural fund supports farmers by financing their costs for measures against the mining moth.

For 2022, the budget of the program is €256,000, and is available to farmers with greenhouses of more than 1,000 square metres.

Bulgaria’s chemical pesticide reduction targets are the lowest possible for EU countries, at 35%, or 51% for the more hazardous chemicals.

It is unlikely that these targets will be met by 2030, however, deputy director of the Bulgarian food agency Olya Karadjova cautioned at a forum in Plovdiv.

Efforts to utilise Integrated Pest Management (IPM), an ecosystem-based strategy that focuses on managing pests through a combination of techniques applied in order of hierarchy to minimise the use of chemical plant protection products, are also struggling.

In effect, it means that chemical pesticides should only be used as a last resort if all other efforts fail.

In Bulgaria, there is not a single registered agricultural producer to carry out integrated production of plants and plant products, there are only registered consultants.

Karadjova believes that the reorganisation of production according to IPM practices will be difficult, because “companies that sell pesticides are the main advisors to farmers, and the same is the case with companies that sell bio-agents”.

All technologies and innovations developed so far are for application in intensive production, and regarding the application of greener technologies, scientific developments are partial and not systematic, she explained.

Currently, only six low-risk plant protection products – fungicides – are registered in Bulgaria, the country’s ministry of agriculture told EURACTIV.

The list of biological agents was updated last year and includes 69 numbers approved for use in various crops.

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