JULIANA AGBO, in this piece takes a cursory look at the effect of non-implementation of the new tomato policy launched by the federal government on the nation’s economy.
Tomato has been in cultivation in Nigeria for a very long time. It is an important component of the daily diet, consumed both fresh and in paste form. There are many vegetable fruits recognised in the country, but, tomato, as a vegetable fruit is a major food component, an ingredient utilised by every household and constitutes the national food security programme.
To rejuvenate this agriculture sector, the federal government on April 11, 2017, announced a new tomato policy which was expected to fully take effect from May, 2018 in line with its objective of boosting production, improving the value chain and attracting investment in the agricultural sector.
Records confirmed that Nigeria produces approximately 1.8 million metric tons fresh fruits for domestic consumption, with national demand of about 2-3 million metric tons annually with demand gap of about 500,000metric tons.
According to the Federal Ministry of Industry, Trade and Investment, Nigeria imports an average of 150,000 metric tons of tomato concentrate per annum, valued at $170 million, mostly due to inadequacy in local capacity to produce tomato concentrate.
Given the importance of the crop as the most consumed in Nigeria, boosting its production has been accorded high priority by the government. To change this narrative, the federal government also increased tariff on tomato concentrate import from five to 50 per cent in its bid to encourage local production.
Part of the provision of that policy is the inclusion of tomato production and processing in the list of industries eligible for investment incentives by the Nigeria Investment Promotion Commission (NIPC), the increase in the tariff on tomato paste or concentrates, not put up for retail sale: Triple concentrate and other (H.S Cod 2002.90.11.00 and 2002.90.19.00) from five per cent duty rate in the National List to 10 per cent duty rate with an additional Import Adjustment Tax (IAT) of 40 per cent, bringing the total to 50 per cent as well as a levy of $1,500 per metric ton.
The policy was to accelerate the growth of the manufacturing industry and deepen the diversification of the economy. Due to ineffective implementation of this policy, stakeholders in the sector decried high level of slow growth and low productivity in tomato production.
Consequently, Tomato Growers Association of Nigeria (TOGAN) has differed in their opinion as to the current position of the policy implementation.
The association attributed the 2018 dry season’s loss estimated at about N10billion to the poor market, lack of guaranteed off-takers and non- existence of functional tomato paste processing facilities in the country.
Accessing the effect of non-implementation of the policy on the economy, the association noted that Dangote Farms and Savannah Foods that had off-take arrangements with farmers had remained handicapped, unable to produce and their factories shut down as these packers of triple concentrate in the country relied heavily on importation at the detriment of farmers and industries in Nigeria.
Commending the efforts of organisations in working towards the growth of the tomato sector, they lauded the efforts of the Nigeria Agribusiness Group (NABG), Pyxera Global, GAIN PLAN and many others for their continuous strive in ensuring farmers were linked with major off-takers such as Dangote Farms, Savannah Farm, Ikara Processing Plants. These off-takers have several MoU’s to off-take fresh tomatoes from farmers to feed their processing plants.
Lamenting over the non-implementation of the policy, they noted that the some cabals were working strongly with agencies to frustrate federal government’s effort.
“Even more shocking is the excessive importation by this cabal; resulting from warning from the customs officials as soon as the Policy was given out in 2017. Our sources claimed they have stock-piled over two years’ worth of tomato concentrates and paste with the help of both Customs and NAFDAC,” they explained.
TOGAN, however, in a communiqué signed by its national president, Alhaji Abdulahi Ringim, during its second world press conference in Kano recently, called for the immediate implementation of the tomato policy by all the government agencies concerned,and the launch of an investigation into the Nigeria Customs Services (NCS) and the reason they flouted government policy and bring them and their partners to justice.
In addition, they also called for an investigation to reveal why NAFDAC which publicly declared that imported tomato paste were only 28 per cent tomatoes and the balance were additives and chemicals have failed to confiscate those produce that was unfit for human consumption.
The association, however, issued a 40 – day ultimatum to the federal government and its relevant ministries and agencies to act fast or witness a mass protest by tomato farmers with trailer loads of rotten harvest to the senate and other relevant authorities.
Reacting to this, the director, Public Affairs, NAFDAC, Dr Abubakar Jimoh, during an interview with LEADERSHIP refuted the allegation, saying the agency was working hard towards promoting self-reliance in production of value – added agricultural products.
Jimoh called on the association to forward the names of cabals in their position operating in NAFDAC to the director – general of the agency for disciplinary action to be taken against them.
Also speaking, the public relations officer, NCS, Deputy Comptroller, Joseph Attah, while reacting, refuted the allegation, saying the officials of the Service had been working towards self sufficiency in the country.
He added that the NCS in the last eight months seized up to 5,838 carltons of tomato paste.
Meanwhile, the vice president, Nigeria Agribusiness Group, (NABG), Emmanuel Ijewere, observed that the first challenge tomato industry was facing was that people involved in the processing in the country had turned out to be a few highly- placed persons and groups.
“It has been sad because they have not used one single tomato from Nigeria. They have depended on those countries and the tomato they have been bringing in is about 28-30 per cent tomato, so what you put in your jollof rice is about 28 per cent to 30 per cent,” he said.
Seeking for urgent solutions to the challenges, he suggested that what was of utmost importance was to improve the tomato value chain right from the point of seedlings.
Dissatisfied with the situation where only one per cent of farmers had access to improved seedlings, Ijewere said the circumstances, in the end, created a state of deprivation.
Attributing the lopsidedness to ignorance and poverty, Ijewere regretted that new factories that were springing up required tomatoes but were hampered to operate because they did not have enough.
Decrying the low profitability of processed tomatoes, Ijewere attributed this to the high cost of processing and blamed the system for the inherent inefficiency in the sub-sector.
“The tomato that will cost about N30 per kilo will be about N 100 per kilo in Nigeria because of the inefficiency in the system that is now been addressed, so we started from the end; that means the government is saying no more of it coming in, we now have to work our way down to the farmers at the grassroots.”
Apparently not impressed over the huge wastages arising from the tomato value chain, he quantified the loss to be in the range of $15bilion annually. To address the loss, he said farmers need to be educated on the use of improved seedlings and adoption of best practices in order to enhance their yield per hectare.