Expanding frontiers for tomato value chain amid challenges
Tomato production specialists have identified hurdles limiting production in the country, but they admit that the potential to meet local demand and export abounds if appropriate technologies, funding, climate-resilient and improved varieties adaptable to Nigeria and off-taking arrangements are firmly emplaced and sustained.
Dr Emmanuel Sangodele, chief agronomist at Kuda Gangara Integrated Tomato Farm, in Jigawa State, a venture of Caraway, (a subsidiary of Olam Group Company, for tomato backward integration and import-substitution industrialisation) listed some of the challenges as inadequate irrigation facilities, low-yielding varieties circulated among farmers, low usage of fertiliser and poor cold chain and transportation networks which account for post-harvest losses, estimated at about 750,000 metric tonnes yearly.
Burdened by forex demand, imbalance in international trade and collapsing industrial sector following inadequate raw materials, the Federal Government stopped the importation of tomato paste in 2020/2021, calling on tomato paste packaging operators to roll up their sleeves for local production and value chain.
According to several sources of production data, such as Proshare Nige- ria and the National Horticultural Research Institute (NIHORT), Nigeria produces about 2.3 million tonnes of tomato yearly, but demand for direct consumption and industrial processing hovers around 3.0 million tonnes.
It is also estimated that of the production figure, 500,000 to 750,000 metric tonnes of tomatoes are lost and wasted, resulting from the failure of transportation on time and cold chain networks.
In response to the ban on tomato paste importation, Caraway has keyed into local production, crushing, processing and packaging.
Tomato planting technicalities
Sangodele said tomato planting needs a cold season (for better yields and quality), which starts from No- November to February, and naturally falls into the dry season period. If by March, tomato is still growing and flowering, the timing has crossed the threshold of active production, he added.
Hence, the basic agronomic factors for success in tomato cultivation are time of planting, seed variety, irrigation facilities, soil fertility and suitability, as well as adequate land preparation and use of appropriate and adequate inputs. And if the farmers follow these and apply best agricultural practices, the current yields could easily go multiple times.
In the commercial farm of Caraway, with a high tech drip irrigation system in place that includes a fertigation mechanism, use of soluble than granular fertiliser will be more efficient for the farm that will ensure eMven higher yields.
Meanwhile, the Head of Farming Initiatives of Olam, Reji George, said: “Caraway has decided to embark upon the backward integration programme for tomato as we are a leading entity in the tomato supply chain, having a major share of the market and being present in this product over many years using significant volumes of tomatoes for our products,” Reji George said.
He added: “Backward integration helps the country to achieve self-sufficiency, develop local farmers and provide increased employment opportunities to local population. And we wanted to be part of the backwards integration programme of the Federal Government that focuses on moving agriculture into a self-reliant and sustainable mode to assure enough and quality food to the population, and by ensuring environmental sustainability. Caraway hopes to achieve the supply of homegrown and processed innovative tomato product brands of Derica, Tasty Tom, Jollof Mix, among others, for domestic consumption.”
Currently, the firm cultivates 100 of total 500 hectares with the state-of-the-art drip irrigation facility at Kuda Gangara of Yankwashi Local Government Area of Jigawa State, and about 2000 smallholder farmers are part of its out-grower scheme in the region.
The present volume of procurement through the out-grower scheme and its commercial farm is over 14,000 MT of fresh tomatoes.
“The harvest is progressing well and the yield is expected to be over 40MT/hectare from the commercial farm. The overall production volume would be over 15,000 MT yearly from the commercial farm alone when the development of the farm is complete in a couple of years,” George said when The Guardian paid a visit to the farm, recently.
At present, Caraway has partnered with a local crushing facility, Aldusar Foods & Beverages, in Katsina State, and the concentrate is further value-added and packaged in its processing plant in Lagos, which has a capacity to produce 44,000MT of different products.
George said with the current efforts on backward integration, the firm was able to reduce the gap between its requirement of concentrate and the actual supply, but still has a gap of 16,000 MT of concentrate.
“This gap can be closed only on continuing this backward integration programme consistently for a few years. The tomato backward integration programme is on track with its key components of commercial farming & farmer out-grower scheme. Crushing, processing and packaging are in place and operational. The current investment of Caraway stands at $20 million on developing commercial farm and out-growers programme, crushing and the plants for processing and packaging. The immediate expansion and further investment areas are in the development and cultivation of farmland, spreading of the out-grower scheme and enhancing the capacity to crush fresh tomatoes,” the company said.
Achieving the potential productivity per hectare was the major challenge in tomato growing in Nigeria along with the massive post-harvest loss that was experienced among the tomato growers. With the experience of the past few years in growing tomatoes, George said “we can confidently say that the yields have been increased substantially in the commercial farms and in the farmer’s fields.
“The productivity is a result of better varieties and planting inputs as well as best agricultural practices, and we could witness the improvement in productivity in both our 100-hectare commercial farm and in the out-growers scheme that covers about 2000 farmers. The buy-back of fresh tomato fruits on time and ensuring supplies to the crushing plant within 24 hours have reduced the post-harvest losses by more than half.”
He agreed that the backward integration policy would have multiplier effects on employment, household income, poverty alleviation im- proved gross domestic products, but the teething challenges should be tackled for greater results.
After crushing the tomato, George said, the concentrate is conveyed in reefer containers to Lagos, “where it is processed into brands.”
The integration of commercial farming, off-taking of farmers’ produce, crushing with a local partner in Katsina, transporting the concentrate to Lagos, processing and packaging have created multiple jobs, and the quantum of associated jobs would be huge when the farm begins full operation following the zero-importation policy.
He commended the Jigawa State government for providing the land for the tomato backward integration project and lauded the host communities and out-growers for buying into the vision and remaining peaceful.
Business Head, Packaged Food Business, Caraway, Premender Sethi, also said the local supply chain signifies a complete end-to-end supply chain solution for domestic markets – right from growing, crushing to process- ing and packaging for the domestic markets (from locally grown high quality fresh tomatoes).
“We expect that the forex outflow will decrease and so will the pressure to manage it. Flexibility will increase as we can get the products produced locally and at high quality,” he said.
Attesting to the productivity of out-growers using improved varieties and new production technologies they acquired from demonstration farms of the firm, Musa Murtala, leader of Kuda Gangara out-grower farmers for Olam joint venture, said each farmer harvests about 300 baskets (about 20 tonnes) of tomato per hectare.
Murtala said he had built a house, married and bought an operational motorcycle from the profit he makes from cultivating about one hectare of tomato in the last few years.
He added that agronomists from the off-taker did visit their farms and trained them on what to do from planting to harvesting, as well as and aggregation.
With various business entities rolling out backward integration business plans and investments, will the country be able to close the production deficit soon? It will be recalled that Dangote Group, Tomato Jos and Erisco, among others, have also tried to roll out local production facilities, but teething challenges, such as in- adequate production of fresh tomato, logistics and high cost of production have hampered progress.
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