By Jimoh Babatunde
MANY before now wonder why Nigeria that is the 13th world largest producer of tomato and second in Africa still continue to spend over $300 million yearly on tomato concentrate importation.
Even as the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (FMARD) says the domestic demand for tomatoes is 2.3 million tons, while it produces only 1.8 million tons annually.
It is said that due to lack of proper agricultural value chain system most of the tomatoes produced in the country are wasted due to post harvest loss, poor handling system, poor distribution channels and lack of easy access to markets.
But with the economic reality dawning on Nigeria that we cannot continue to import tomato concentrate, so many investors are now investing in backward integration by building new tomatoes plants that will process the raw tomatoes into paste while some are taking over moribund plants.
One of such moribund plants is the Ikara Food Processing Plant in Kaduna which had been moribund for over two decades.
Today, it has been resuscitated through a Public-Private Partnership between the state government and Springfield Agro Ltd.
Springfield Agro has invested over N200 million so far on revamping the moribund Ikara processing plant, just as it sealed a pact with Growth and Employment in states Wholesale and Retail sector (GEMS4) development programme to address production challenges and inefficiencies in the wholesale and retail market system for the commodity.
Growth and Employment in States — Wholesale and Retail Sector (GEMS4) facilitates links between farmers and processing companies. It is a 17 million pound market development project in Nigeria, funded by the World Bank and the U.K’s Department for International Development.
Its mandate is to facilitate market system changes to address identified constraints to encourage economic growth, resulting in the creation of 10,000 new jobs and increased incomes for 500,000 people, especially for the poor rural dwellers and women.
The Managing Director, Springfield Agro Limited, Tarun Das, during an interaction with journalists in Lagos recently, explained that the pact with GEMS4 will help to reduce post-harvest loss in the community as well as aid the supply chain through the out-grower scheme.
With a production target of 2,500 metric tonnes monthly, Das added that the firm will unveil its solutions through high yield technology while reducing the movement of tomatoes across the country.
Das added: “The purpose of this MoU is to provide a general framework for cooperation between GEMS4 and Springfield Agro Limited and to define activities of mutual interest that will facilitate the development of tomato value chain in Northern Nigeria to improve quality of tomatoes produced by smallholder farmers to meet standards and requirement of tomato processors.”The project will work to build upon the local capacities and to change the market incentives so that the sector better meets the long term needs of the poor, including women.
“Thus, the parties wish to collaborate in the organisation and implementation of good agricultural practices and good handling practices in the production, transportation and marketing of fresh tomatoes between the supply end of the value chain and the demand side to ascertain the supply chain integrity”.
On his part, Director, Springfield Agro, Victor Eburajolo noted that the company having identified the need to improve quality and standards of fresh perishable products decided to partner GEMS4 on the project, adding that the factory, which had been abandoned for almost 20 years had commenced operations in January and would be effectively deployed to add value across the tomato value chain.
He said: “It is believed that with collaboration involving the parties to explore tomato paste production from fresh tomatoes and retail ready produce packaging for the improved market channels in the near future, jobs and incomes can be created with value addition leading to reduction in wastages from production”