Nigeria Struggling with Bid to End Tomato Importation
A presidential master-plan initiated by former President Goodluck Jonathan’s administration, and designed to be achieved from 2012 to 2018, revealed that Nigeria needs 6 million metric tonnes of tomato annually to meet her domestic need and to begin export.
While the country loses about 40% of 1.8 million tonnes of tomato produced annually to postharvest losses at the peak of production, importers are having a field day importing tomato paste at the detriment of the farmers.
On Tuesday, the Minister of Industry, Trade and Investment, Okechukwu Enelamah, outlined a new tomato policy conceived in collaboration with the federal ministry of agriculture, which he said will create 60,000 jobs in the country.
The new policy is expected to increase domestic production and processing of fresh tomato in order to reduce postharvest losses.
This policy will “stop the importation of tomatoes preserved otherwise by vinegar or acetic acid; increase the tariff on tomato concentrate to 50% with an additional levy of $1,500/MT…, accelerate the growth of the manufacturing industry and deepen diversification,” he said.
Enelamah, who said Nigeria imports an average of 150,000 metric tonnes of tomato concentrate per annum valued at $170 million mostly due to inadequacy in capacity to produce tomato concentrate, noted that the country’s “current demand for fresh tomato fruits is estimated at about 2.45million metric tons per annum (MTPA) while the country produces only about 1.8million MTPA.
Until recently, many of the companies active in the industry were not ready to go into backward integration, but would rather import cheap triple concentrates from China and other Asian countries, which undermine the effort of local farmers.
Last year, the nation witnessed one of the worst disasters in the industry, when Tuta Absoluta (a pest that destroys tomato plant & fruits) ravaged farms across the country, creating scarcity which pushed the prices of the product to a record high in the history of Nigeria.
At the same time, importers who saw the situation as an opportunity made a case for the federal government to allocate forex for them to import concentrates and pastes.
Although the supply of tomato is better this year compared to last year when Tuta Absoluta brought the industry to its knees, many issues regarding production and availability continue to resonate among industry stakeholders.
Mr Emmanuel Kanu, a deputy director in charge of horticulture in the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development Abuja, told Daily Trust in an exclusive interview in his office that despite pressure from various importers, government has refused to listen to their demands.
He said the ministry was reporting 40-51% per cent postharvest loss caused by importation because processors don’t uptake what the farmers produce, adding that the amount of wastage tallies with the amount of import. “That gives you an idea that if we stop importation, there will be no postharvest losses,” he stressed.
Kanu stated that government was committed to helping those willing to go into backward integration than importation, adding that the quantity of tomato lost to postharvest alone could provide raw materials for those bringing concentrates into the country.
“We need 6 million metric tonnes of tomato 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, number of farmers to produce certain quantity for us to reach that target.
“If we are using a good variety (not strong determinant) and we get 30 tonnes per hectare, it means we need 200,000 hectares. Currently we are producing in about 273,000 hectares at the yield average of 8 tonnes per hectares. So does it make sense? It is better we produce on less and have higher yield. If we go further using strong determinate seed, we will get 50 tonnes per hectare,” he said.
Speaking on availability, the director said, “As far as I’m concerned, tomato is not scarce now, go to the open market you will get a 35kg basket of tomato for between N6,000 and N7,500 depending on the variety and fruit size. The slightly higher cost in the South is due to transportation and logistics.”
On all-year-round production, the ministry is trying to merge the seasonality of the product, emphasizing production using greenhouses.
The minister of agriculture Chief Audu Ogbeh had earlier secured a waiver on zero import duty on greenhouses, which will bring down the cost of the technology.
Ambassador Okwudili John, a development horticulturist based in Abuja, in a telephone interview with Daily Trust, enumerated the issues challenging the growth of the Nigerian tomato industry to include farmers’ resistant to adopting best global practices.
He also pointed out that the inability of the country’s technology experts to develop storage innovations, for mitigating postharvest loses, is affecting availability of the produce all year round, stressing that as a nation we must stop the huge tomato import bill which was over N36 billion and was killing local production.
Alhaji Mua’zu Datti, a tomato farmer at the Kadawa Irrigation project and former chairman Kadawa Tomato Farmers Association, told Daily Trust that tomato farmers are facing a number of challenges which is affecting production and supply.
Datti said although some farmers got hybrid seed from the government, others had issues regarding the performance of the seeds and therefore reverted to the former ones or sought for seeds elsewhere.
Beside the tuta absoluta challenge, supply is usually low as the wet season approaches. But the farmers stressed that the price of tomato came down compared to last week and might rise in the coming weeks.
Most consumers in Abuja do not see the cost of tomato soaring as much as it did last year as they described it as an isolated case caused by the Tuta Absoluta attack on tomato. They also appealed to government to curtail the importation of foreign tomato paste into the country, describing most of them as unfit for human consumption.
Mrs Kemi Owoseni, a teacher in Kubwa, says “By this time of the year, the cost of fresh tomato starts increasing but we have not seen that yet. Is it impossible for tomato to be available all year round? Government should try and do something about that. I prefer using fresh tomato to the tomato paste which no one is sure of what it is made of. I’ve heard that some of the imported ones are a mixture of starch and some other ingredients.”