By Jimoh Babatunde
Notable Nigerians joined in the call for the banning of imported tomato paste into the country as over 75 per cent of tomatoes harvested in the country are wasted in the hands of farmers while Nigeria remains the largest importer of tomato paste in the world.
Speaking during a factory tour of Erisco Foods Limited, Lagos weekend, Chief (Mrs.) Nike Akande, Senator Ita Giwa, Comrade Isa Aremu and Mrs. Olufunke Aleshinloye all joined Chief Eric Umeofia in condemning the flooding of the market by imported tomatoes paste.
The Chief Executive Officer of Erisco Foods Limited, Chief Eric Umeofia, said “It may interest you to know that Nigeria is the biggest importer of tomato paste in the world while over 75 per cent of fresh tomatoes harvested get wasted in the hands of our farmers yearly due to the fact that there is no means of making use of them industrially.”
He said Nigeria is blessed with two favourable planting and harvesting seasons whereas China that exports tomato products to Nigeria has only one favourable planting and harvesting season due to their climate condition.
Umeofia noted, “Worst still, both the Indians that form the majority of the people that import fake/substandard tomato paste into Nigeria, and China that produces the fake/ substandard tomato paste do not consume, in their own countries, the same quality of tomato paste they produce and dump on Nigeria. Still they pay little or nothing as import duty.”
While commending President Muhammud Buhari for his call for Nigerians to consume what is produced here, Umeofia said until indigenous manufacturers are respected and supported, no meaningful economic diversification will be achieved in the country.
He said the faith they have in President Buhari led to the huge investment the company embarked on to convert Nigeria fresh and dried tomatoes into paste that will be able to save the nation over US$1 billion being spent on importation of tomato paste annually.
“In addition, we will also export and earn hundreds of millions of US$ in 2017 after meeting the tomato needs of every Nigerian in December 2016, provided that government stops the dumping of fake/ substandard tomato paste on us as we are set to employ over 50,000 youths in 2 to 3 years with over 5 million jobs for farmers indirectly in our Katsina, Jigawa and Sokoto State backward integration projects.”
He disclosed that the firm was set to start production from its Katsina project in the first quarter of 2017, adding that this could only be made possible with the support of Nigerians.
Speaking after the inspection of the state of the art tomatoes processing company, Chief Nike Akande, President, Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry, while commending Chief Eric Umeofia, said Nigerian manufacturers deserved to be protected by the government from foreigners, who are just interested in taking out of the system.
The representative of the Labour minister, Mrs. Olufunke Aleshinloye, the General Manager, Nigeria Social Insurance Trust Fund, commended Erisco for the innovation of converting dried and fresh tomato fruits into paste, adding that it was a laudable accomplishment.
He said, “The Nigerian economy needs this kind of innovation and diversification, which in turn has led to job creation in the agricultural sector with regard to the feeder farms that provide raw materials; the engineers that set up the production plant and maintain its constant functioning; the factory workers that turn the raw materials into finished product that is then marketed by entrepreneurs, wholesalers and retailers.”
For Comrade Isa Aremu, said Chief Eric Umeofia with his investment has shown that Nigeria has the capacity to be self sufficient in tomato paste. While calling on government to ban the importation of tomato paste, Aremu said it is important we use our product as the safety of those dumped on us from outside cannot be guaranteed