tomato paste

As the debate on the importation of packaged tomato paste rages, Raheem Akingbolu wonders if the federal government is serious about its ban in order to boost the activities of local manufacturers and protect consumers from buying substandard goods

One of the promises that elated Nigerians, especially local manufacturers and consumers when the current administration came on board was the assurance that government would do anything humanly possible to promote made-in-Nigeria goods. For the local manufacturers of tomato paste, whose businesses had suffered for years in the hands of unscrupulous businessmen, who import substandard paste from China and other Asian countries at cheaper price into the market, the news was a relief.

Months after, the ugly development still persists without any pragmatic action taken to nip the situation in the bud. From Ido market to Daleko, Idumota to Aba market and the popular Kano market, the story is still the same; fake tomato paste at cheaper prices. The fallout from this, according to a financial expert, Mr. Adewale Abe is that local manufacturers would be stressed and may eventually die.

He said: It is a simple theory, Nigerian companies that struggled hard to invest in tomato plantation, factories and meet specifications of regulators will not be able to compete with the promoters of substandard foreign pastes at cheaper prices. The activities of promoters of fake products can also result to unemployment because local manufacturers, who are providing jobs for Nigerians are being frustrated. Above all, the economy will greatly suffer.”

Speaking further, the expert went down memory lane and reeled out names of local brands that have recorded untimely death because they couldn’t withstand the heat. Among others, he mentioned, Tomapep, from the stable of Cadbury Nigeria and Vegful, which have since gone into extinction.

Porous border

Of all the factors encouraging the importation of substandard products, the infectiveness of Nigeria borders stands out. This reporter found out during a recent visit to Seme border that large quantity of foreign tomato pastes still enter the country from Republic of Benin with ease. A market woman, Cecelia Ogbu told THISDAY as she was trying to unload her goods from a locally made tricycle that conveyed her to the Nigerian end of the border that all she needed to do was to tip the customs and other security men on the road to get to her store at Mile 2 area of Lagos. With the porous border, one wonders if the assurance of the current Comptroller-General of the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS), Hameed Ibrahim Ali (rtd)’s assurance that things would improve is anything to go by. Asked why she didn’t buy made-in-Nigeria tomatoes, Ogbu didn’t mince words before saying it was not economical for her business.

“Buying in Cotonou is more economical for us as business women and it gives us choices. In Benin Republic, we have access to many products, which include Brisk, Bonjour, Super Mix, Tomato Paste, Gino, Awa, Farm Stew and Ginny. We don’t have problem patronising Nigeria manufacturers if the price is competitive,”
To Ogbu, the issue of health implication of bringing these goods into the market means nothing since her customers are not complaining.

Health implication

At a recent consultative meeting held between the top echelon of the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and control (NAFDAC) and packaged tomato paste top importers, the former director-general of NAFDAC, Dr. Paul Orhii, was honest enough to announce that 85 tomato paste brands sold in various markets across the country, those imported from China were clearly below international and Nigerian standards and specifications.

He expressed his concern that unscrupulous Asian and Nigerian importers have been dumping substandard tomato pastes manufactured in China into Nigeria. The cheery news however was that he stated equivocally that local tomato pastes meet the required safety and nutritional standards, pointing out that NAFDAC had always made regular unscheduled inspections at their various production facilities in the country.

The damning report revealed that 91.1 per cent of the foreign brands studied failed the NAFDAC test with virtually all the packaged brands from China being the culprits. In a frightening dimension officials of the Agency observed that most of the China-made brands contained far less than the required quantity of tomato concentrate. According to him, they were rather filled with bulking agents such as starch and then infused with banned colouring, which could cause cancer and lead to organ failure. To this end, some experts have raised alarm that this may in fact be responsible for the increase in Kidney and Liver-related ailments among young and middle-aged Nigerians across the country. Before the exit of Orhii, NAFDAC had in commenced a massive recall effort to mop up the affected brands and go after the respective organisations and individuals involved in the gross inhuman business. It is expected in many quarters that this will continue until the market is sanitised.

Local manufacturers

Despite the odds and the unfriendly environment, a few manufacturers have continued to make the nation proud by sticking to international and local standard to meet consumers’ need. At a quick glance, one can readily point out Erisco, Dangote, Vitali and Sonia Tomato Pastes in the market. Dangote group started a few years ago to grow tomato and process to concentrate and then transfer to Sonia for packaging. Erisco Foods Limited, which inaugurated a world class plant recently, is the only company in the market that is growing tomato, processing and packaging locally. To boost production and expand its frontier, the company announced recently of its determination to launch massive tomato plantations in Sokoto, Jigawa, Katsina and Zamfara states in order to make Nigeria one of the hubs of tomato paste manufacturing in the world.

President of the company, Chief Eric Umeofia, who announced this in Lagos, during an official visit by representatives of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) governor and its management to Erisco Foods factory, expressed the company’s intent to support backward integration executions in the tomato value-chain.

By supporting the company and others that have determined to plunge into the business, it is believed that government will be able to control the country’s massive loss of foreign exchange, duty and taxes through these implications. Asides, banning importation of substandard tomato paste will also protect the public from falling into the negative implications of consuming adulterated inferior goods.

Legislative and regulatory backings

As the custodian of the law, the National Assembly sure has a huge role to play in controlling the ugly trend. Also important are the Standard Organisation of Nigerian (SON) and the Consumer Protection Council (CPC).

The President of the Senate, Bukola Saraki, knew this when he said recently that the government had a responsibility to ensure indigenous manufacturers thrive to rebuild the economy and put Nigerians to work.

Saraki said this when he received a delegation from Innoson Motor Manufacturing Company, Nnewi, led by the Chairman and founder of the company, Innocent Chukwuma, in his office.
He said government should use legislative actions and policy initiatives to protect the local industries as a deliberate way of reviving the economy.

Based in Nnewi, Anambra State, Innoson Motors is the only Nigerian company manufacturing automobile of different range.

Saraki said one of the actions government should quickly introduce was to ensure that local industries were patronised by government agencies so that Nigerian manufacturers could enjoy the advantages accruing from the big market that her population offers.

“That is why this eighth Senate is determined to amend the Procurement Law to ensure that government agencies patronise Made in Nigeria products,” Saraki said.
In a similar way, the Acting Director General of the Standard Organisation of Nigeria (SON), Dr. Paul Angya, last week said the Made-in-Nigeria, products will soon become the most preferred goods for Nigerian consumers. The Director General also affirmed that the practice of taking Nigeria products to another country and label them another country’s name is over.

Speaking in Lagos on the effort being made to improve locally produced goods, Angya said the organisation vision is to get closer to the people so that their goods and farm products will be elevated up to global standard.

The DG further said that henceforth any dealer of fake products caught, shall be charged with murder. He said the agency would go extra miles to put an end to importation of used and sub-standard products into the country.

Angya said SON mandate is known to everybody who is aware of standardisation but as acting director general he would enforced serious sanction on culpable.

Meanwhile as the world marked the 2015 edition of the World consumer Rights Day celebration, the Consumer Protection Council (CPC) drew the attention of the nation to the rising incidence of antibiotics resistance, attributing the development to the cause of many medical treatment failures.

The Council, which joined the international community in raising concerns on the growing cases of antibiotics resistance globally as part of annual event, emphasised that concerted efforts must be deployed to reverse the trend in the country.

The CPC’s Director General, Mrs. Dupe Atoki, who made the assertion while addressing the media as part of the activities lined up to commemorate the Day at the Council’s headquarters in Abuja, also seized the opportunity to underline the Council’s commitment towards raising the bar of consumer protection in the country.

With all these promises by various agencies of government and political will to achieve it, it is a matter of time; the country will rid the market off substandard products that are inimical to the health of consumers and nation’s economy. Again, if federal government can embark on policies that will drive local production of tomatoes, it will lead to the stoppage of importation of foreign concentrate for use in Nigeria.