By Princewill Ekwujujru
Tomato paste manufacturers across the country have decried the $1billion (N12billion) spent annually by Nigerians on tomato paste importation. Financial Vanguard investigation showed that there is enough local production capacity to meet national demand. However despite local capacity to supply the Nigerian market, importation of the product at dumping price is suppressing local production. As a result of local producers’ inability to cope with the current level of dumping of the commodity via import, over 3,000 jobs have been lost across the industry. Tomato paste is not a prohibited item, but Nigeria manufacturers said, they have the capacity to meet demand.
Managing Director of Sonia Foods Industries Limited, Nnamdi Nnodebe, who spoke under the aegis of Manufacturers Association of Nigeria, MAN Tomato manufacturers, a key operator in the industry said, “Nigeria is the second highest producer of tomato in Africa and 13th in the world. Still, it spends N12billion annually, on importation of tomato paste.
“Sadly, about 750,000 tonnes of tomatoes harvested in Nigeria, go waste, with over 3,000 workers disengaged as a result of poor Food Supply Chain, storage management and price instability.
“Under the new foreign exchange policy regime, 41 items including triple concentrate used for producing tomato paste were barred from access to foreign exchange needed as raw materials for processing and production of finished tomatoes paste. It is paramount on the mind of tomato producers, and it would only be ideal to support us, actualise this ambition for the good of our economy.”
Nnodebebe said: “Once this is actualised, more jobs would be created and more importantly exports would start to happen because Nigeria has the potential to become leading exporter of concentrates, if given the prerequisite support.
“One way, we could make this happen, is partner the northern states, since tomato cultivation thrives in the North where it finds favourable climate, Governors in the North should endeavour to work together with credible manufacturers to speedily achieve backward integration.”
He went further to say, “This development has become a challenge and has left manufacturers groaning under the weight of the current policy which has made it difficult for them to access raw materials. “I am very confident, if given this allowance, it will work together for our good and for the economy, because Sonia Foods can complete a tomato factory farm, requisite for processing tomato concentrate, within two years.”
Manufacturers Association of Nigeria, MAN President, Dr. Frank Jacobs, said, “in order to address this challenges government should through its fiscal/monetary policy maintain duty of 20 percent and additional levy of 30 percent on finished tomato in retail packs.”
He went further to say that importation of tomato paste in sachet should be prohibited to encourage local value addition and to protect consumers against the health hazards arising from short shelf life of sachet products.
“There should be strict measures against imported substandard and smuggled products, specific target should be given to appropriate research institutes to develop seedlings and projects that will lead to replacement of imported tomato paste and government should be ready to give necessary financial supports,” he pointed out.
Earlier, Former National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control, NAFDAC Director General, Paul Orhii, had complained that 90 percent of packaged tomato paste from China are sub-standard and dangerous.
Re-echoing the danger inherent in the consumption of substandard tomato products in Nigeria, Chief Eric Umeofia, Chairman/CEO of Erisco Foods, said: “Most of the imported tomato products are only here to “kill” Nigerian consumers and not to satisfy their domestic needs.
Umeofia said: “To establish a tomato paste manufacturing company in Nigeria is not only a burden, but very traumatic. I’m the first indigenous producer of tomato paste in all the sizes both in sachet and tins. And for many years, I have been doing that according to the standards as certified by NAFDAC and Standard Organization of Nigeria (SON). I also have the approval of Nutrition and Private Medical Practitioners of Nigeria (AGPMPN). It is my humble sacrifice to the motherland, at least to help in turning Nigeria from import-dependent to export driven nation.”
Unfortunately, this aspiration is collapsing due to lack of stringent measures by relevant regulatory authorities—federal ministries, Nigerian Customs Service as well as other policy makers to checkmate unbridled importation of tomato paste brands into Nigeria.”
He lamented that all his efforts to produce quality tomato brands have been rendered useless by the presence of imported sub-standard products, blaming the rot on some greedy Nigerian merchants in collaboration with some Chinese manufacturers. Financial Vanguard investigation to unravel the process and procedure of bringing in products through Seme land border met with brick wall as the the whare house owners spoken to refused answers to questions posed. Investigation revealed that two cartoons of 70gram tin tomato containing 50 pieces without duty, costs N500 to smuggle into Nigeria. For those who pay duty complain of high tariff and beaucratic bottle neck, but bribes to over 25 road blocks mounted by Customs, Immigration and the Police. Along the road.
Most of the tomato brands in the market do not have indication of country of origin, expiring and manufacturing dates, those with expiring dates were reprinted. Insight into Okeari market, Igan Iduganru and Alaba suru revealed most of the items come in the middle of the night when nobody would notice.