CEO of Erisco Foods Limited, Mr Eric Umeofia while speaking during the Katsina State Economic Summit revealed that a cabal of tomato importers have been undermining the efforts expected to transform commercial production of tomato.
“It will however shock Nigerians that while genuine manufacturers such as Erisco Foods and Dangote Farms are working hard to ensure full backward integration in the tomato sub-sector, a cabal of tomato importers have been very busy lobbying and deceiving well-placed government officials to stop them from taking actions that will transform Nigeria’s tomato sector for the better.”
While he commended President Muhammadu Buhari on his commitment and support towards achieving economic stability, he was quick to express his disappointment at the extent to which we continue to loose foreign exchange earnings from importation of sub-standard tomato paste from other countries.
Nigeria is ranked 14th largest producers of tomato in the world and the largest producer in Sub-saharan Africa and yet almost half of the tomato paste found in the market are imported from China and Italy, in fact it is said that Nigeria is the largest importer of tomato paste after Iraq and Japan.
Erisco Foods has an installed capacity to produce 450, 000 metric tons of tomato paste per annum but currently utilizing less than 20 per cent, Mr Umeofia said receiving adequate support, the target is to hit one million metric tonnes per annum when the Katsina, Jigawa and Sokoto states project come to stream by the last quarter of this year.
Dangote Tomato processing factory commenced production early this year but suspended production due to lack of raw materials, the company had to suspend production because there were no fresh Tomato fruits to process. Major Tomato farms in Kano and neighboring producing states were invaded by Tuta Absoluta, a vicious tomato pest. The managing director, Alhaji Abdulkadir Kaita noted that the pest had destroyed tomato farms in the affected states which automatically jerked up the price of the perishable commodity.
There have been a number of challenges facing local production of the paste, these include supply chain challenges but not limited to a number of factors such as cultivation problems, invasion of pest and diseases, lack of storage and processing facilities during glut. These problems have continued to further impoverish and discourage many farmers who now result to cultivating seeds instead of full focus on tomato.
Tomato is now very costly in the open market, an average tomato size now sells for between N60 – N90. Urgent measures need to be taken to tackle these problems in order to achieve a sustainable food production.
Such measures include building capacities of farmers to properly manage farms and also improve farming practices, establishing sustainable out-growers scheme, introducing new improved hybrids with high yield and high resistance to pest and diseases. Investment in technology such as irrigation and Green-House will also drive growth in this sector.
One of the main producers of fresh tomatoes is Mexico. In the past years, Mexican companies have started to move from growing tomatoes outdoors to cultivating them in greenhouses, harvest has since increased and the country now produces about 60 percent of the fresh tomatoes sold on the US market. Issues of pest and diseases are reduced, much less problematic in the controlled conditions of a greenhouse and the plants’ exposure to heat and cold stress is also reduced.