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Before we ban tomato imports

Audu Ogbeh

Last week, the federal government again promised to ban importation of tomato products by 2021 as a way of boosting local production and conserving foreign exchange. Such a move was promised many times in recent years but was never done. Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development Chief Audu Ogbeh,  who announced this during an inspection  tour of Gino Tomatoes Farm in Kaduna, said continued importation of tomato paste has resulted in massive job losses and has impoverished local farmers. This country would soon achieve self-sufficiency in tomato production and even export it, he said.

Ogbeh said, “In a short while, we will stop anybody importing tomato paste into this country. It is going to happen faster than people think. So, let the smugglers beware; production not smuggling; production not importation. Definitely not importation of what we can produce.” He added, “Our children have to have jobs; our farmers have to have jobs. Farmers are entitled to happiness, good living and we have abandoned them in the bush for too long. And go tell Nigerians that tomatoes are being grown here on a scale which in a short while, will make us exporters not importers of tomato products. Our target is two years from now, no more import of tomato products.”

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Governor of Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) Godwin Emefiele, who was also on the tour, emphasised the need to ban tomato importation, saying such would be good for the economy. The plan is a good one because it will boost local production and encourage more people to go into farming. However, we hope that this announcement will not go the way of many similar announcements made by the Ministry of Agriculture since the commencement of this administration.

A series of laudable announcements made by the Agriculture Ministry over the years never saw the light of day. We hope this one will be a different case.  Nigeria has the land, water and climate to produce tomatoes for local consumption and export. A lot must however be done to ensure success.

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It is not enough to announce a ban on importation of tomato products, but machinery must be put in place to encourage production. Farmers need to be educated on modern ways of farming tomatoes and the government should endeavour to provide improved seedlings to boost production. Despite world-wide technological advancement in agriculture, our local farmers still use ancient farming tools and methods.

Till date, availability of tomato in Nigerian markets is seasonal. While it is cheap and abundant during the dry season, it is scarce and expensive during the rainy season. This should not be the case because simple technology is available for farmers to produce tomato all year round. Improved seedlings and fertilizer will improve things even more.

Another major challenge facing farmers at the moment is that of preservation. Year in, year out, tomato farmers suffer losses due to lack of good storage facilities. Many farmers are  even unable to break even due to this. It is sad that a few months after harvest, so much tomato is wasted and not long after that, there is scarcity of the product. The storage system must be improved upon. Big tomato processing companies can also assist by buying up the products from local farmers in good time to avoid waste. We call on other well to do Nigerians to invest in that area as well.

Tomato farmers also need encouragement in the area of facilities. We recall the success that was recorded in rice farming through the Central Bank of Nigeria’s (CBN) anchor borrowers programme. Something of the kind should be organised for tomato farmers as well. Furthermore, for the ban to succeed, those manning the borders must ensure that they carry out their duty diligently, because if tomato products are not in the country, people will have no choice but to patronise the locally produced ones.

 


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