Recently, the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) Governor, Godwin Emefiele, assured local tomato farmers and processors of sufficient finance under the Anchor Borrowers Programme (ABP) to meet local demand and bridge an annual shortfall of ovee 1.2 million tonnes valued at about $2.5 billion. Taiwo Hassan writes
As widely known, the Federal Government had disclosed that one of the key reasons for the country’s border closure was to address smuggling of agricultural products, which are affecting local market growth and also contravening the present administration under President Muhammadu Buhari’s blueprint for agric development.
In recent times, it has been a thug of war in the country’s tomato sector following numerous lamentations and groaning by local tomato farmers and processors over the adverse effect smuggling of the product is having on their businesses and investments.
Ironically, Nigeria is the largest producer of tomatoes in sub-Saharan Africa with an annual yield of 1.8 million tonnes, mostly produced in the North. But despite this position, it is shocking to see that tonnes of tomatoes are still being smuggled into Nigeria from neighbouring countries because the national annual production cannot meet consumption level.
The aspect of smuggling of the product has been monumental in the anal of the country’s economy. But some school of thought had said that what engineered the smuggling was because both the local tomato farmers and processors cannot meet the country’s tomato sufficiency.
Shortage of storage facility
Ironically, despite Nigeria’s nearly two million tonnes annual production, up to 40 per cent of the crop never make it to the market, thereby impacting food security and smallholder farmers’ income.
In fact, lack of preservation technology also exposes the produce to wind, flies and other threats.
Statistically, inadequate storage, processing facilities and wastage in tomato value chain is costing the country’s economy about $15 billion in post-harvest losses annually.
Ideally, Nigeria has the potential to grow 6000 tonnes of fresh tomatoes yearly but is yet to capitalise on the potential due to the inability of Federal Government to effectively implement policies that would drive investments and serve as incentive for farmers to grow more.
No doubt, the country’s tomatoes industry is facing numerous critical challenges in the areas of pest, lack of fertiliser, poor irrigation, low quality seed, difficult roads and lack of storage – that really undermine progress in the sector.
On paper, it makes perfect sense that Nigeria produces nearly two million tonnes of tomatoes each year, but farmers are unable to produce the quality and quantity of tomatoes, since there is deficit in the establishment of state-of-the-art tomato plants, which should be the solution to the gap in the sector.
Bridging tomato gap
However, with assurances from the CBN that it would make funds available to local tomato farmers and processors under the ABP to meet local demand and bridge an annual shortfall of more than 1.2 million tonnes, definitely this will go a long way in guaranteeing tomato sufficiency in the country.
Speaking recently at the ground breaking ceremony of Tomato Jos Farming and Processing Limited located in Kaduna, Emefiele said that the CBN, as far back as June 2015, before the current tomato policy was approved in 2017, had excluded importers of 41 items from accessing foreign exchange at the Nigerian foreign exchange (forex) markets, to import it.
He said: “Pursuant to the above, we introduced the commodity champion model in the first quarter of 2019, to stimulate the production of tomato and strengthen the end-to-end linkages in the value chain from input supplies to the final consumer.
“The strategy adopted is largely hinged on the twin approaches of out-grower contractual arrangement in the short to medium term, and backward integration in the medium to long term efforts so far have begun to yield results with the mobilisation and validation of about 140,848 farmers from various Tomato Farmers Associations across 25 States in Nigeria.
“They are to be financed under the ABP where they would be linked to proximal processors where applicable, or financed to produce fresh fruits for direct consumption, which constitutes the largest use of tomato in Nigeria.
“We are also partnering with other big players in the tomato value chain like Dangote Tomato Processing Ltd, Sonia Foods, GB Foods (GBF, Vegefresh Company Limited and a host of others. This is with a view to ensuring that Nigeria becomes self-sufficient in tomato, and our processing companies, functioning at full capacity and employing millions of Nigerian youths.”
Already, the apex bank explained that its intervention in the production of tomatoes currently stands at a little over N10 billion.
It stated that one of the projects, which is Dangote Green House tomato production project, had the capacity to produce 10 million tomato seedlings in a month. The CBN noted that this would be sold to about 5,000 out growers that will grow and supply the tomato factory, which commenced operations a few weeks ago with raw tomatoes.
Agric stakeholders have said that the CBN assurances to support local tomato farmers and processors will culminate into creating millions of jobs with the economy saving over $250 million annually.