Recently, the Federal Government inaugurated a tomato monitoring team to supervise the implementation of its tomato policy. TAIWO HASSAN examines the task ahead of the team
Barely one year after the Federal Government announced the approval of new tomato policy, there is still much to be done towards the revitalisation of the country’s tomato industry.
Particularly, the tomato policy was designed to achieve sustainable tomato processing in Nigeria, but the implementation of the new tariff regime, which began in August 2017, is yet to felt in the sector
This has therefore become worrisome for members of the organised private sector (OPS), who are lamenting their huge investments in the sector.
According to the Federal Government’s blueprint on new tomato policy, Micro Small and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs) and large companies needed to invest in the industry given its potential such as job and wealth creation in rural areas.
Ideally, the implementation of the policy has been slow, prompting the Federal Government to go back to the drawing board to look at ways to solve the challenges in the comatose sector and protect local manufacturing companies.
Importation of tomatoes
Statistics from the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) showed that about N6 billion is currently spent annually in foreign exchange on tomato import despite the introduction of the new tomato policy.
With an annual national domestic demand estimated at 2.4 million metric tons, only about 1.7 million metric tons is produced annually, leaving a deficit of 700,000 metric tons due to cultivation of existing low yield varieties and high post-harvest losses.
But in order to arrest the shortfalls and reduce the influx of tomato paste importation, the Federal Government disclosed that the policy on importation of tomatoes has stimulated the establishment of new and emerging processing plants as well as the resuscitation of some hitherto comatose tomato concentrating plants.
Speaking on this development, the Director General of the Raw Materials Research and Development Council (RMRDC), Dr. Hussani Ibrahim, said that the government was fully aware of the uncertainty in the country’s comatose tomato sector.
According to him, the establishment of new and emerging processing plants, if allowed to operate at optimal capacity and competitively, and satisfies the demand for table use, it would add an additional five million metric tons of quality processing grade tomatoes.
Speaking at the inauguration of the monitoring team, the Minister of State for Industry, Trade and Investment, Aisha Abubakar, said that the government was working round the clock to make sure that the approved new regime on tomatoes was a success after all.
“It is, therefore, important to put in place a tomato monitoring team to oversee the implementation of the policy. The membership of the monitoring team is made up of public and private sector and the processors,” she stated.
Abubakar noted that the ministry had been partnering other ministries, departments and agencies to address challenges that could hinder the actualisation of the objectives.
The minister said the team would provide a linkage between research and development in the industry as well as champion the growth and development of the tomato industry.
She added that the sustainability of the industry would be promoted through a peer review mechanism among tomato processors to be instituted by the team.
The monitoring team is made up of the ministries of Industry, Trade and Investment; Finance; Agriculture; Raw Materials Research and Development Council; Nigeria Customs Service; Central Bank of Nigeria and National Agency for Food Drugs Administration and Control (NAFDAC). Others are National Research Institute For Chemical Technology (NARICT) and private sector players.
Among the private sector players are the Manufacturers Association of Nigeria (MAN), Dangote Tomato Processing Limited, Erisco Food Industries Limited, Savannah Integrated Farms, GB Food, Tomato Jos and Springfield Tomato Processing Companies.
The team’s terms of reference include monitoring the implementation of the policy and importation of tomato products and derivatives.
For the Manufacturers Association of Nigeria (MAN), there is need for the Federal Government to protect the huge investment by local firms in tomato production by reducing the importation of concentrated tomato paste.
Its President, Dr. Frank Jacobs, in a chat with New Telegraph, rued that the government through its introduced new tomato policy must cushion the large importation of concentrated tomato paste, which, according to him, is killing local industry.
He said that there was need for the government to balance the continued importation of concentrated tomato paste and enhance local production for consumption.
Jacobs explained that despite the government’s support of local manufacturing firms that are into tomato paste production, all is not well with the industry in terms of stability and conducive environment for investors.
He lamented that importers of concentrated tomato paste still spent billions of naira yearly on the commodity through seaports and land borders in spite of the policy in place.
“The issue of tomato has been on for a long time. Members in the sub-sector have invested heavily in the industry. They have made representation through MAN on ways to protect their industries. I believe that most of the imports you are talking about are not the finished tomato paste but rather the concentrate ones,” he said.
“If they are the concentrate ones then those people that import them are expected to pay some levies.
“Paying the levy is to balance against those people that have gone into backward integration.”
Jacobs bemoaned the challenges facing the local manufacturing firms that are into tomato production in Nigeria, stressing that apart from the environmental and industrial challenges, the issue of mass importation of tomato paste into the country was the most critical thing affecting tomato development in Nigeria.
FG’s stance on importation
The Minister of Industry, Trade and Investment, Dr. Okey Enelamah, while speaking on the new tomato policy recently, insisted that the government had not totally banned importation of tomato paste rather it only introduced higher duty, tariff and levy for prospective importers in order to discourage importation of the product.
He said that the idea of the new tomato policy was in favour of local production.
“Yes. We haven’t stopped people from bringing in tomato paste. We only said that you will pay more if you bring it here because you have breached the incentives of growing it here,” he explained.
“So in a nutshell, what we are trying to say is that importing paste is a luxury thing whereas we can grow it locally.
“What has happened in the sector before we came in was the flooding of cheap tomato paste in circulation, of which some of them are sub standard.9
“We find out that people are finding it difficult to compete locally. So what we’ve done is to issue a new tomato policy that bans first of all, retail of tomato paste and that it should be produced locally, including the so-called packers, that is, those who bring in industrial paste and pack them here. We have basically said that they should pay an extra duty of 50 per cent and of course, there is also a levy of $1500 per ton.
“The idea of the new tomato policy is to favour local production and I think, we have already seen some positive signals in the processing plants that were redundant now going back to work.People are basically retooling their abandoned plant”
Industry stakeholders are optimistic that the monitoring team will judiciously execute their jobs and reduce the huge foreign exchange loss.
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