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Still a long way to self-sufficiency in tomato production

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• Soaring Produce Price, Saboteurs, Frustrating Our Efforts, Says Dangote
• Tuta Absoluta Outbreak, Govt’s Failed Promises Ruining Our Businesses, Farmers Lament

Nigeria is the 14th largest producer of tomatoes in the world. On the continent, the country is ranked second (after Egypt) with about 1.8 million metric tonnes (mt), which she produces annually.With over 48 million tomato farmers across the country, Nigeria accounts for 65 per cent of tomatoes produced in West Africa.

Ironically, the country is also the largest importer of tomato paste in the world, importing an average of 150, 000mt of concentrate per annum, which is valued at $170m. Five years ago, the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), under Malam Lamido Sanusi, expressed worry about the N11.7billion the country was spending then to import 65, 809mt of processed tomato paste.

Represented by the then Deputy Governor, Economic Policy, Mrs. Sarah Alade, at a one-day stakeholders’ forum on partnering to build a competitive tomato industry, Sanusi attributed the massive tomato import to the dysfunctional agricultural value chain system in the country.The dysfunctional value chain, he said, equally leads to a loss of about 50 per cent of the tomatoes produced in the country because of poor preservation, poor marketing, distribution hiccups and access to markets.

“There is the need for partnerships by producers with key processors to increase their competitiveness and locally sourced raw materials to replace imported tomato products, increase jobs in rural areas and reduce poverty,” he said, adding, “To this end, the CBN has been working assiduously with producers, leading processors and other stakeholders.”

Sanusi, who is now the Emir of Kano, further explained that the forum was intended to strengthen the country’s tomato industry, through partnerships in a bid to realise its potential in tomato production.Five years after the forum held, little or nothing has changed as far as tomato production in the country is concerned. If anything, the situation has just got worse.

Right now, the country’s current demand for fresh tomato fruits stands at about 2.45 million mt per annum, while it produces about 1.8 million mt. It also now imports 150, 000mt of concentrate per annum as against the 65, 809mt it did five years ago.Now, of the total fresh tomato fruits produced, 40 to 51 per cent never make it to the market due to post-harvest losses at the peak of production. These losses are put at approximately $15 billion.

A presidential master plan initiated by the President Goodluck Jonathan-led administration in 2012, which was designed to be achieved between 2012 and 2018, revealed that the country needed six million metric tonnes of tomatoes annually to meet her domestic needs and to begin export.The shortfall in the demand and supply gap is what has now given way for importers to have a field day, to the detriment of local farmers in particular and the country in general.

Agriculture experts are of the view that the country has all it takes to be self-sufficient in tomato production and for export, but the influx of imported substandard paste has continuously undermined the effort of local producers. Worried about this untoward development, the Tomato Union of Nigeria (TUN) in March last year urged the CBN to consider removing tomato paste triple concentrate from the forex policy restrictions, or provide the raw materials to the industry.

Nmandi Nnodebe, the spokesman of the union, told reporters in Lagos that if local tomato paste producers get raw materials straight from the apex bank, job losses would be averted and the industry spared collapse. While lamenting that forex policy has continued to encourage the smuggling of inferior tomato paste through the borders, he added that triple concentrate, the major ingredient used by the local brands, has equally been taken away as a result of the forex policy.

Across the country, an investigation revealed that the fresh tomato sold in markets is single concentrate, but becomes double concentrate once the water is dried out. But the imported paste is triple concentrate that has already been mixed with soya among other ingredients to make it thicker. All the importer needs to do is to mix the triple concentrate with water, package it and push it into the market.
 
For most of these importers, it is easier to import than to invest in local production. And this importation, rather than being of help to tomato farmers, through the provision of processing factories, where the crop can be processed, is a great disservice to them and the country, as the importers are by their trade creating jobs in China, Spain and Italy. 

And because tomatoes have a very short life span, the only way farmers can preserve their yield is to cut, dry them on sand, and replant them. That is what most farmers have been doing for the past 100 years or thereabouts.

However, last May, the Federal Government, through the national tomato policy, placed a 50 per cent import duty on tomato paste, but the policy has been very slow in creating the needed impact in the sector. Consequently, existing tomato processing firms are either shutting down or are struggling to stay afloat, while importers are flooding the country with their merchandise.

Unfortunately, immediately the Federal Government raised the tariff on imported tomato paste, the Republic of Benin started importing 10 times the quantity it was importing before. This led importers to brazenly smuggle the product into the country just the way imported rice and frozen chicken are smuggled in.

Stakeholders are of the view that 96 per cent of imported tomato pastes are substandard and not good for consumption, but in spite of this, the unfit products are finding their way into the country due to government’s inability to effectively implement policies that would drive investments and serve as incentives for farmers to grow more.

According to the Vice Chairman of the Nigerian Agribusiness Group (NABG), Mr. Emmanuel Ijewere, to stem the situation, there is the compelling need to improve on the value chain, such that there are adequate tomatoes to serve the three tomato processing plants in the country.Regrettably, the problem of getting tomatoes to processing factories has resulted in a huge post-harvest loss of the produce as it is estimated that only 60 to 65 per cent of tomato produced in the country gets to dining tables.

“It is unfortunate that up to 50 trailers loaded with tomato from the North that arrive at the Mile 12 Market in Lagos State are wasted. The Lagos State government is very angry at this sad development,” he said.On what government can do to protect private investments in the sector, Ijewere noted that government has done all it can do, as it cannot perform magic overnight.

“Government has done all that it needs to do, it now behooves the private sector to take advantage of it. As at today, there are enough tomato plants in the country, what needs to be done is to produce enough fresh tomatoes and there has to be strong partnership between the farmers and the factories.”
 
He pointed out that most of the tomato farmers are peasant farmers, and if improved seeds are used, yields are usually between 30 and 40mt per hectare. But many of them don’t use it, therefore they produce between four and seven metric tonnes per hectare, as improved seedlings cost as much as N75, 000 per hectare.

In 2016, the nation witnessed one of the worst disasters in the industry when Tuta Absoluta (a pest that destroys tomato plants and fruits) ravaged farms across the country, creating scarcity of the product. This infestation pushed the prices of the product to a record high in the country’s history.

While this went on, importers saw the situation as an opportunity to make quick money, so they got into the fray. Consequently, they made a case for the Federal Government to allocate forex for them to import concentrates and pastes.Although tomato supply was better in 2017 compared to 2016 when Tuta Absoluta brought the industry to its knees, many issues regarding the production and availability of the produce have continued to resonate among stakeholders.

Government’s apparent insensitivity in addressing the myriad of challenges facing local tomato paste production has not augured well for the industry either, as two major plants have shut down within one year.Towards the end of last year, the Dangote Tomato Processing Factory, founded by Africa’s richest man, Aliko Dangote was shut down in Kadawa, Kano State. The sudden closure was attributed to the soaring price of the produce, importation policy frustrated by smugglers, and lack of government’s support to farmers in the wake of the outbreak of the tomato disease that ravaged farms across the country.

The Managing Director of the outfit, Abdulkareem Kaita, who accused government officials of sabotaging the importation policy even before it took off said 94.6 per cent of imported tomato paste, failed the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control’s (NAFDAC) minimum quality test.
   
Shedding light on some of the major challenges that his firm encountered before closing shop at a session with newsmen, he said inconsistent supply of tomatoes by farmers and the shortfall in the price of the produce ranked topmost.He regretted that farmers were not getting necessary incentives from the government to produce more tomatoes, even with the losses they incurred in 2016.
 
“In 2016, tomato farmers suffered great losses due to infestation by a pest called Tuta Absoluta, and up till today, no government official, from either the state or the Federal Government has visited the farmers to appreciate their losses, sympathise with them and see what can be made available to them in terms of seeds or inputs. This is very discouraging,” he said.

Kaita added that with necessary support from government and the banning of importation of tomato paste, tomato processing would be sustainable, especially if the fruits are continuously supplied. He added that if the importation of tomato paste is stopped, the country could grow and process tomatoes “locally because the number of farmers we have and the quantity they can produce is sufficient for factories producing in the country.”
 
The managing director, who explained that most of the packaging companies were owned by foreigners, who are not willing to invest in either tomato farms or tomato processing factories, expressed sadness that the country would continue to be import-dependent on what it can produce and even export.In an exclusive interview with The Guardian, Kaita accused the Federal Government of being insincere with its policies. 


He noted that the country has the potential to grow 6,000 tonnes of fresh tomatoes yearly, but is yet to capitalise on the potential due to the government’s inability to effectively implement policies that would drive investments and serve as incentives for farmers to grow more.“For now the impact of the tomato paste policy is not yet being felt, we are still watching and we hope that by next year when the importers have exhausted all they imported before the policy was enacted, we would begin to see the impact.

“We as indigenous processors have processed fresh tomatoes into concentrates since last April hoping that importers would start buying locally, but this is yet to happen. There is still no market for it and we have a lot in stock. It is one thing to put a policy in place and it is another thing to ensure it is fully implemented. A lot of importers anticipated the tomato paste policy and filled their warehouses with imported concentrates before the policy even commenced,” Kaita said.

A year earlier, specifically in November 2016, privately owned Erisco Food, located in Lagos State threatened to close its tomato paste plant, eight months after it opened due to a shortage of forex for the importation of raw materials. Its closure would have led to the disengagement of about 1, 500 staff.The company, which has capacity to produce above 450, 000 metric tonnes per annum, hopes to create over five million indirect jobs for farmers in Katsina, Jigawa and Sokoto states, through its backward integration projects.

According to the President/CEO of the company, Eric Umeofia, the initiative of the company to convert fresh and dried tomatoes into paste, can save the country over $1billion that is being spent annually on the importation of tomato paste.Erisco had hoped that government would support local producers by banning tomato paste imports, just as it did in the past with cement and some fruits.

Before the threat of shutdown, Umeofia who spoke during a tour of the outfit by some prominent Nigerians, including Chief Nike Akande, Senator Ita Giwa, Comrade Isa Aremu and Mrs. Olufunke Aleshinloye said, “It may interest you to know that Nigeria is the biggest importer of tomato paste in the world while over 75 per cent of fresh tomatoes harvested get wasted in the hands of our farmers yearly due to the fact that there is no means of making use of them industrially.”

The industrialist pointed out that the country is blessed with two favourable planting and harvesting seasons whereas China that exports tomato products to Nigeria has only one favourable planting and harvesting season due to its climate condition.He continued: “Worse still, both the Indians that form the majority of the people that import fake/substandard tomato paste into Nigeria, and China that produces the fake/substandard tomato paste do not consume the same quality of tomato paste they produce and dump on Nigeria. Still they pay little or nothing as import duty.”

Two years after Tuta Absoluta’s infestation, tomato farmers are still groaning due to the losses that they still incur as the pests have refused to go away completely. They are also yet to receive any form of support from government. Aside from lack of support from government, the importation of adulterated seeds and other inputs, despite the country’s ability to produce high quality seeds, form part of the challenges that farmers are encountering.

In an interview with The Guardian, Secretary, Kano State Tomato Farmers Association, Mustapha Adamu, expressed worry about the continuous infestation of their crops by the pest, as well as disappointment at government’s silence on their plight.“It is very sad that as I speak to you, many tomato farmers have no money to restart their businesses after their crops were destroyed. They were neglected and up till today, the Federal government has not shown them any form of sympathy. Government has failed to compensate them and the disease has kept on infesting their produce. So, how do you expect them to continue farming?

“Another problem is the market. If the processors don’t have good markets to sell the processed tomatoes, how can they buy from us at a good rate? So, we are calling on the Federal Government to begin to address these problems.  Government must assist processors so that they can buy our produce at a good price. Secondly, we want the government to stop the importation of tomato paste. As you can see, everywhere is saturated with pastes imported from China, and this has been killing tomato farming and local processors’ businesses.”

The proliferation of adulterated tomato seeds, which are being imported and sold to farmers without proper examination deeply bothers a Kaduna-based tomato farmer, Joji Kurfi. While attributing the bad times experienced by key players in the sector to issues like adulterated seeds supplied by marketers, and government’s failure to checkmate their activities, Kurfi stressed that right now, “one of the biggest challenges we are facing is the problem of seeds input. Every marketer is allowed to come with any variant of seeds without any test or verification being carried out, and we have no choice than to buy these seeds.

In outlining the new tomato policy conceived in collaboration with the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development recently, the Minister of Industry, Trade and Investment, Okechukwu Enelamah said it would create 60, 000 jobs in the country.The new policy is expected to increase domestic production and processing of fresh tomatoes in order to reduce post-harvest losses.

“This policy will stop the importation of tomatoes preserved otherwise by vinegar or acetic acid; increase the tariff on tomato concentrate to 50 per cent with an additional levy of $1, 500/mt, and accelerate the growth of the manufacturing industry and deepen diversification.”The Deputy Director incharge of Horticulture at the Federal Ministry of Agriculture, Mr. Emmanuel Kanu, recently disclosed that the government has failed to yield to pressures from various importers, adding that the stoppage of tomato paste importation would address the issue of post-harvest losses.

While noting that the amount of wastage tallies with the amount of import, he said that gives an insight to the fact that if importation is stopped, there would be no post-harvest losses.He added that government was committed to helping those willing to go into backward integration than importation, saying the quantity of tomatoes lost to post-harvest alone could provide raw materials for those bringing concentrate into the country.

“We need six million metric tonnes of tomatoes to be self-sufficient and also to export. And this is very simple to produce. The farmers are there. In each of the states, we have allotted land areas, and the number of farmers to produce certain quantity for us to reach that target.

“If we are using a good variety (not strong determinate seed) and we get 30 tonnes per hectare, it means we need 200, 000 hectares to achieve this aim. Currently we are producing in about 273, 000 hectares at the yield average of eight tonnes per hectares. So, does it make sense? It is better we produce on less land space and have higher yield. If we go further to using strong determinate seed, we will get 50 tonnes per hectare,” he said.


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