James Emejo in Abuja
The Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Chief Audu Ogbeh, has disclosed the federal government’s resolve to ban the importation of tomato products into the country by 2021.
He said the continued importation of tomato paste had resulted in massive job losses to foreign countries, a situation which had further impoverished local farmers and denied them of a better life.
This was just as Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Mr. Godwin Emefiele, stressed the need to ban tomato importation and further hinted on plan to prohibit the importation of milk into the country in the near future.
Both spoke in Kaduna recently, during an inspection tour of Gino Tomatoes Farm, which is a subsidiary of GBfoods Africa.
They insisted that the country would soon achieve self-sufficiency in tomato production, enough to even export and earn foreign exchange.
Commenting after inspecting the farm and its processing facilities which he later commissioned, the minister said: “In a short while, I assure you we will stop anybody importing tomato paste into this country.
“It is going to happen faster than people think. So, let the smugglers beware; production not smuggling; production not importation – definitely not importation of what we can produce.”
He added: “Our children have to have jobs; our farmers have to have jobs. Farmers are entitled to happiness, good living and we have abandoned them in the bush for too long. Now that people are joining hands to give them life, we are most grateful.
“And we believe the future we have been dreaming of is here. And go tell Nigerians that tomatoes are being grown here on a scale which in a short while, will make us exporters not importers of tomato products.
“Our target is two years from now, no more import of tomato products, simple.”
Ogbeh, particularly commanded the CBN governor for refusing to cave in, in the face of mounting opposition in some quarters to abandon his desire and commitment to diversifying the economy through laudable interventions in the agricultural sector.
He said: “The CBN has been pushing the agriculture programme with direct support by funding through programmes in the Ministry of Agriculture.
“People have called him (Emefiele) names and criticised him. But if he had not devised the means of bypassing the mountains of obstacles confronting production in this country, by today, the story of Nigeria would have been a horrible one.”
The CBN boss, however, called on other investors to tow the path of Dangote and Gino farms to invest massively in tomatoes production in order to export and attract foreign exchange into the country.
He commended President Muhammadu Buhari for insisting that “it is time we produce what we eat and eat what we produce”.
Emefiele said: “We should just be grateful to God that we are in a position where we are witnessing these things and many more would happen.
“Like the minister said, whether we like it or not, as long as we are producing this for our consumption and possibly for export, there is no choice other than to ban this.
“And there are various other products as well. I keep talking about milk: before I was born 60 years ago, milk is being imported into the country and I have told WAMPCO that look, we need to come back.”
He said: “What does it take to produce milk; is it not to fatten the cow, give it water, give it the necessary nutrients and it will produce milk for you.
“Yet, they say milk cannot be produced in Nigeria. We will confront it and I think they also should get ready to join in this train.”
Continuing, he said the tomatoes farm had further assured that, “If we continue this programme in a very tenacious manner, that in two years, Nigeria will not only be self-sufficient in producing these tomatoes, we will also begin to export tomatoes and I am sure.
“We want to ask other people who are interested, to please join. Join and let us earn foreign exchange from exporting tomatoes rather than spending foreign exchange importing tomatoes into Nigeria.”
Meanwhile, the Director, Corporate Affairs & Agric Business Projects, Africa, GBFoods, Dr. Teddy Ngu said the company has invested over N2 billion in the project and expressed gratitude to the Federal Government, CBN, and the State Government for the encouragement and support enjoyed in the course of setting up the farm.
He attested to the fact that the CBN supported the company by providing foreign exchange for it to bring in the equipment currently on the site.
Though still on test run, he said the farm had already employed over 50 people, mostly Nigerians on site at the moment.