Crusoe Osagie discusses some fables that have pervaded the nation’s tomato industry recently and the measures which Conserveria Africana is taking to boost local tomato production
A lot of hoax and myths have trailed tomato in the past six months or so. In the end, most of it turned out to be mere baseless conspiracy theories, completely devoid of verifiable fact.
One these myths was the allegation sometime in April that Dangote had mopped up all the fresh tomatoes from the farms and markets to feed his recently commissioned tomato processing factory. The propagators of the absolutely false claim had blamed Dangote for the astronomical hike in the price of the widely consumed vegetable at the time.
Until the federal government and scientists from research institutes within and outside Nigeria raised the alarm over the spread of a pest that attacks tomato, known as Tuta absoluta, the blame was wrongly and unfairly placed on Dangote.
Again, another tomato propaganda is gaining prominence. Some individuals are calling for a ban on the importation of triple concentrate and processed tomato paste, claiming that they have the capacity to produce enough for local consumption within the country.
Unfortunately, they make these claims without any empirical data to back the position.
When cement operators called on the federal government to ban the importation of cement, the reasons for the call were clear; vast limestone deposit, one of the best quality in the world; vast gas and coal deposits, for powering the cement plants; as well as highly trained manpower from both within and outside Nigeria to run new plants.
These are the sorts of preconditions necessary before the call for prohibition of any particular highly consumed product.
However, in the case of processed tomato, at the moment, Nigeria is far from developing the conditions necessary for a ban to be placed on the importation of the essential product.
The first reason why Nigeria will be unable to prohibit tomato paste importation without a severe backlash is the current uncompetitiveness of the nation’s tomato industry with those of other nations.
In Nigeria, the yield per unit space of land cultivated is by far lower than what is obtainable in other nations such as the United States, Italy and China.
According to the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) statistics, while in Nigeria, a hectare of land which is 1, 000 square kilometres, will yield 5 to 7 tonnes of fresh tomato, in the US, Italy and China, you get between 50 to 80 tonnes per hectare.
Apart from the issue of volume of output, there is also the problem of the quality of output. All the varieties of tomatoes planted in Nigeria basically have water content of over 80 per cent, but the varieties planted in the other countries (US, China) contains less than 40 per cent of water.
Therefore, if the total output of fresh tomato in Nigeria, which is about 1.5 million tonnes per annum is taken by processing factories, leaving nothing to be consumed fresh, the nation will still not produce sufficient tomato paste to serve the market because with the variety of tomato widely planted in Nigeria, you will have to process four trailers load of fresh tomato to obtain one pickup van of tomato paste.
Market watchers have therefore urged the federal government to investigate claims from various quarters of ability to meet the total local market need for tomato paste made by individuals who claim to have large farms in Jigawa while their factories are located in Lagos.
“Anyone in the tomato processing industry knows that once you plan to locate a tomato processing factory outside 10km radius of your source of fresh tomato, you cannot attract funding from multilateral finance institutions, let alone when a factory is located about 3-days journey away from the source of fresh tomato.
“Once the tomato bulbs come off the stalk of the plant, it must get into the processing machine within 24 hours, otherwise the quality of the tomato paste to be produced will be poor,” an industry expert who does not want his name printed noted.
CAL’s Backward Integration Plan
An operator in the industry, Conserveria Africana Limited (CAL), with popular brands such as Gino and Promo, has however highlighted its plan to migrate from its present business model of manufacturing tomato paste from triple concentrate which is imported from the United States, to a fully integrated tomato processing plant.
CAL said it has a fully researched work plan to produce the right quality and quantity of fresh tomato for onward processing into tomato paste, to meet Nigeria’s need for the product.
The Chairman, CAL, Mr. Francis Ogboro, stated that the company has spent quite a fortune in the initiative, maintaining that backward integration is the way to go for Nigeria to boost the production of tomato and in the long run, support local production.
The chairman during a guided facility tour of the company’s state-of-the-art factory, said: “There is huge money being spent on importation of tomato from outside the country and it is on this premise that we are championing the backward integration programme for tomato paste production.
“If there is any local manufacturer where we can source our local raw materials, we have no business going outside the country to source for raw material, but unfortunately today, not one factory in Nigeria can produce triple concentrate. We realise that we can actually feed the whole West African countries from Nigeria. This resulted in our quest to look at backward integration. We have spent a fortune in this project and we have gone a long way.”
In his words, “The yield per hectare for producing tomatoes in Nigeria is about 5 to 6 metric tonnes per hectare whereas other tomato producing countries produces about 50 to 60 metric tonnes per hectare. This is one issue we have in Nigeria and we see that we can overcome this challenge. To improve the yield per hectare will take a longer time which would also require an agricultural reform. Increasing the nation’s yield per hectare from 6 metric tonnes per hectare to about 60 metric tonnes cannot happen within two years, but would require a continuous process. Other factors affecting tomato production in the country includes the lack of vast land holding of farmers and this has made it difficult to do an automated and controlled farming. Controlled farming techniques could be into seeds, types of fertilizers, farming practices.”
Also speaking at the event, the General Manager of the company, Mr. Zaki Anwar, added that as part of its plans to backward integrate, the company hired an agronomist to visit tomato growing States in the country in order to get the right yield, stressing that it jointly employed a group of scientists that have developed a particular seedling required to boost the required type of yield for tomato paste production scheduled to arrive the shores of the country in August.
“We also have a pilot programme in Katsinna and have zeroed in all the farmers into a cooperative to provide seedling. We are the first company to think of backward integration. We are planning to convert everything we import to locally sourced. Our backward integration policy is very active and we have spoken to our stakeholders, but one major factor hindering the initiative is the lack of clarity in the policies of the federal government,” he said.
The Chairman stated that the company was established 12 years ago and pioneered the manufacturing of locally reprocessed tomato paste in flexible packages in Nigeria investing excess of N5 billion in the Nigerian economy, adding that the company is the licensed producer of popular ‘GINO’ and ‘POMO’ branded tomato pastes in Nigeria with presence in 24 countries in west and central Africa including Nigeria, Ghana, Benin, Togo, Angola, Cameroon, DRC Congo and many others.
He noted that all GINO products maintain the same product quality standard and production practices across the countries it operates complying with international standards and best manufacturing practices, while also emphasising that the company’s tomato brands are the purest forms of tomatoes in sub-Sahara Africa produced without adding any additives or colour with the triple concentrate tomato paste raw material imported mainly from the United States, China and other European countries including Italy, Spain.
“All our machines and respective spares are manufactured and procured from only Europe (precisely Italy) with highest quality standard possible among industry. Our management and staff are highly qualified, experienced and well trained both locally and internationally with the additional benefits of exposure to professional career training exchange programs between our staff members in various countries of our presence so as to compare notes on product quality standards, knowledge, skills, processes and procedures. Apart from being ISO and NAFDAC certified, our products are of top quality standards and offer extra food value to our esteem customers retaining the freshness of the fresh tomato and additionally provide the needed extra thickness in stews and soups,” he said.
He drew the attention of the Joint Committee to the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) circulars of June 23, 2015 and June 30, 2015 which invalidated the allocation of foreign exchange for the importation of 41 items including triple concentrate tomato paste (HS Code – 2002, 9011.00) which is the major raw material for the tomato paste.
According to him, “Although Conserveria is not against this policy which is geared towards encouraging local production but we are concerned about the timing and the abrupt nature of the decision which seems not to have fully considered the actual situation on ground specifically as it relates to facts and figures on tomato production, processing and packaging in Nigeria. We are at loss on the why CBN suddenly came up with a policy of these monumental adverse effects on the tomato real sector of the economy without reasonable notice period or initial interaction with the major players in the sector. There is currently inadequate primary processing capacity to meet the country’s requirements of triple concentrate tomato paste for industrial use.”
He appealed to the federal government to temporary delist triple concentrate tomato paste (HS Code – 2002, 9011.00) from the list of 41 items considered till Nigeria bridges the wide gap between local tomato production and the level of consumption which is anticipated to be achieved in the next two years.
However, the leading multinational manufacturer and undisputed market leader of tomato paste in Nigeria, called on the federal government to save the tomato industry from total collapse through factory shut downs, saying this situation is capable of having adverse effects on the economy.
The company made this call when the Co-Chairman and members of the House of Representatives Joint Committee on Healthcare Services/Drugs and Narcotics visited the company’s state-of-the-art manufacturing plant in Lagos, stating that the joint Committee’s visit to the company was part of their oversight functions specifically in continuation of their investigation of the alleged importation of fake, substandard and cancer-causing tomato pastes into Nigeria.
The Chairman while welcoming the committees’ members on behalf of the management and staff, congratulated them on their election as Honourable members of the House of Representatives and subsequent appointment as members of the all-important Joint Committee. He commended the House leadership for inaugurating the Committee advising the members to execute their assignment without any dot of fear or favour. He assured them of his company’s cooperation.
The Co-Chairman of the joint Committee, Eucharia Azodo, on behalf of her Co-Chairman, Mr. Chike John Okafor, emphasised that the visit was the first outing since the committee was constituted.
She stated that the visit is in line with the current agricultural and industrial reform exercise of government and part of efforts to reveal the cabals behind the alleged importation of fake, substandard and cancer-causing tomato pastes into Nigeria.