James Emejo in Abuja
The federal government has expressed its resolve to ban the importation of tomato products by 2021.
Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Chief Audu Ogbeh, who made the disclosure, 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 better life.
This is coming as the Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Mr. Godwin Emefiele, has also buttressed the need to ban tomato importation, adding that the importation of milk into the country could also be banned in the near future.
The duo spoke in Kaduna during an inspection tour of Gino Tomatoes Farm, a subsidiary of GBFoods Africa.
Ogbeh insisted that the country would soon achieve self-sufficiency in tomatoes production, and even export and earn foreign exchange.
“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 said: “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 commended the CBN governor for refusing to succumb to the 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.”
On his part, 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.”
In his speech, the Director, Corporate Affairs & Agric Business Projects, Africa, GBFoods, Dr. Teddy Ngu, said it 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 had supported it by providing foreign exchange to bring in equipment currently on the site.
Although still on test run, he said the farm had already employed over 50 people, mostly Nigerians on site at the moment.
He added that of the entire rented area of about 100 hectares, about 30 hectares had been mapped out as farm area of which 16 hectares had been cultivated.
He said: “We plant in phases so that we can harvest in phases so that we keep our factory running continuously.
“In the long run, we are going to move to a 3,000 hectares (about 3,000 football fields), that is what we are going to be doing in a short while.”