While some tomato farmers in the northern part of the countries are calling on their state governments to mop up surplus tomatoes in markets across the states to curb wastage, Lagos residents and others in southern part of the country are already feeling the heat of the border closure as the price of the commodity has gone up in the markets.
Before the border closure, tomatoes traders in Lagos state relied on the importation of tomatoes from Benin Republic to augment the shortfalls of the commodity from Gombe, Kano, Kaduna, Plateau and Sokoto States.
Agriculture stakeholders said the country can be self-sufficient in tomatoes production without relying on importation of raw tomatoes or paste from Asia if the right policies are put in place.
Nigeria consumes approximately 2.3 million metric tonnes of tomatoes annually, while it produces about 1.8 million metric tonnes annually.
About 45 per cent of the domestically produced tomatoes are destroyed before they reach the market or dinner table.
The border closure has shown that one of such reasons is bad roads, which makes it impossible for the tomatoes farmers to access the market for their commodities.
It was not surprising that some tomato farmers in Benue recently called on the state government to mop up surplus tomatoes in markets across the state to curb wastage.
The farmers, who made the call in separate interviews, said the government could do this by establishing tomato processing industries in areas where the product is being cultivated in large quantity.
According to them, this will go a long way to curb wastage and improve the incomes of average tomato farmers in the state.
Mrs Tabitha Ahungwa, a tomato farmer, lamented that a lot of the commodity was being wasted because of lack of buyers, saying that preserving it locally could be very difficultduring the rainy season.
“Even the buyers are not helping us the farmers. They are not encouraging us because they buy the product with a meagre amount.
“This is worse during the rainy season. During rainy season most people venture into the cultivation of the product on a large scale,” she said.
Mr Tor Numve, also a tomato farmer, corroborated Ahungwa’s view, saying that tomatoes were usually cultivated in large quantity during the rainy season.
“This is because tending it during the season is less tedious compared to the dry season.
“As a result of the large cultivation of tomatoes during the rainy season and without storage facilities, there is usually a lot of waste of the commodity.”
Adebayo Isa, a tomato farmer, said the proposed investment in tomatoes production by the Governor of Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) just as it did with rice to improve local production will come to nought if nothing is done to the distribution of harvested tomatoes to all part of the country.
Isa noted that a lot of programmes have been introduced to get high yielding seeds to tomatoes farmers, now they are given “the hybrid seedling varieties that will produce 40, 60, 80 to 100 tones per hectare using the best practices,”
“If the farmers increase their yields and there is no market for their produce, what happens?”
It is common knowledge that most of the tomatoes in Nigeria are grown in the North and transported via road to the South where the market is. Before now, the average time from north to south was at least 10 hours, but today, it takes up to 24 hours, if not more. The tomatoes are gathered in baskets mounted on each other and packed into lorries like sardines. It is no wonder that almost half are destroyed before they reach the market.”
Isa added that pending when the roads will be fixed that the farmers can be encouraged to do more if the private sector investors are given the invectives to go into the production of tomatoes paste as they will become off-takers from farmers.
It would be recalled that Dangote factory shut down operation in May 2016 due to a decrease in the supply of fresh tomatoes in the five tomatoes producing states in the country, but happily, the Dangote Tomato Processing Company, Kadawa, Kano State, has resumed operation.
Alhaji Abdulkadi Kaita, the Managing Director, Dangote Tomato Processing Company, Kano, said the country can survive without importing tomato pastes from other countries. Kaita said that the multi-million naira tomato processing plant was operating at high capacity on a daily basis.
He said that the craze for the importation of tomato pastes being produced in countries such as China was not as qualitative as the ones produced in Nigeria.
He said that with the sophisticated state of the art facilities in place, the company’s production output was adequate enough to meet the competing demands of customers in Kano in particular and the country as a whole.
Kaita said that lack of patronage had been the major challenge the company was facing over the years in spite of the safety and quality nets it had introduced for consumers to have a fair share of the deal.
“It will be counterproductive for large scale dealers of the commodity to heavily rely on importing the commodity from foreign countries,” he said.