Only a negligible number of soups and stews are prepared without tomatoes, hence the crop’s prime place in millions of homes in Nigeria and worldwide. As ABUBAKAR SALIHI, Kano AGBO-PAUL AUGUSTINE, Abuja found out however, this important culinary ingredient is avoidably rotting away on farms nationwide, in thousands of tonnes.
While tomatoes are cultivated in most states in the country, Jigawa, Katsina, Zamfara, Sokoto, Kaduna, Bauchi, Gombe and Taraba, Kano lead the pack in the commercial cultivation of the crop. According to documents obtained by LEADERSHIP Weekend from the federal ministry of agriculture, Nigeria ranked 16th on the global tomato production scale, accounts for 10.79 per cent of Africa’s and 1.2 per cent of total world production of tomatoes.
However, an alarming 45 per cent of tomatoes harvested in the country is lost due to poor Food Supply Chain (FSC) management; price instability resulting from seasonal fluctuation in production and the supply preference of farmers and middlemen for urban markets than processors due to low farm gate prices. This loss, according to the Horticulture Transformation Tomato Value Chain Implementation Action Plan 2012 – 2015 of the federal government, comes to about 750,000 tons per year, amounting to millions of naira. This is despite the fact that the country has not been able to meet domestic demand for tomatoes. In fact, between 2009 and 2010, Nigeria imported a total of 105,000metric tons tomato paste valued at over N16 billion to bridge the deficit gap between supply and demand in the country.
Kano state ranks top in the country with dry season cultivation of over 30,000 hectares of irrigated tomatoes in the Kano River Irrigation Project (KRIP) covering Kura, Bunkure, and Garun Malam local government areas in the state. Other locations within the state that have dams are also relevant tomato production areas namely Makoda, Dambatta, Kunci, Kabo, Gwarzo, Kabo, Kumbotso, Madobi, Kibiya, Karaye, Rogo, Minjibir, and Garko local government areas.
At a forum last year, Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) Governor, Lamido Sanusi, claimed that Nigeria will be sufficient in the production of tin tomato pastes by 2013. Sanusi based his assertion on the projection that tomato harvest will grow by 1000 per cent in Kano, reaching between 300,000 and three million metric tons by February this year.
But the apex bank chief’s projection has fallen flat with the current realities in Kano, which suffers a significant slice of the tomatoes losses recorded in Nigeria.
Malam Muhammad aka Dan Hijja’ has been a tomato farmer for over 25 years. He told LEADERSHIP Weekend that tomato farmers in the state are at the receiving end of the colossal waste of the food crop. To mitigate their loss, Dan Hijja says he and his fellow farmers have resorted to engaging in other crops production during raining seasons and only planting tomatoes in the dry season using the irrigation system.
“This way, we are able to make up parts of the losses we incur to tomatoes farming. The level of loss of tomatoes is unsustainable to any farmer, hence it has ceased to be something we plant as our main crop; it is now our second business if not lower. Unless there is both financial and technical support from governments at all levels, then tomato farmers will stick to this business model, regardless of the fact that the people need more tomatoes than we can bring to them all year round,” Dan Hijja stressed.
Another tomato farmer in Kano, Alhaji Danlami, said it would have been impossible for him to plant the crop but for some major waterways near Kano city, which he uses to irrigate his farm.
According to him, tomato farmers close to cities and markets like himself face less risk of losing the bulk of their produce to lack poor transportation system and lack of storage facilities.
He urged government to support farmers to shift from the old ways of storage, packaging, drying and transportation of tomato to modern approaches in order to stem the colossal wastage of tomatoes in the country.
Tomato retailers who also spoke with LEADERSHIP Weekend decried the inconsistency price volatility, which they also linked with the problems farmers face to store and transport the produce.
Malam Muhammad Mudi is a tomato seller and major dealer at the popular Yankaba vegetables market in Kano. He told LEADERSHIP Weekend that he has been in the business for about 35 years, lamenting that he usually loses thousands of naira every year as his tomatoes perish due to lack of storage facilities.
He also stated that major tomato producers in the state are small scale farmers who could hardly produce enough not to talk of hygienic packaging for lucrative sale and compete in major markets.
Although he admitted that trading in tomato is profitable, a young seller of the produce in Kasuwar Rimi market, Malam Suleiman, alias Sule-Kudaje, lamented that a high percentage of his stock usually rot away as a result of poor packaging and transportation.
Senior Special Assistant Agriculture to Kano Governor, Rabiu Auwalu Yakasai, admitted that tomato farmers face a huge challenge maximising their harvests in Kano and beyond.
Yakasai explained; “According to a recent feasibility study, enormous social and economic constraints surround the entire key actors in the tomato value chain in the state. These constraints include institutional weakness as expressed in traditional extension service and declining agricultural research, which over the years both diminished to non-effective level.”
He added: “Tomato production in the state, as in other parts of the country, is done during dry season, that is November to June. The raining season, that is July to October, is severe tomato scarce period because of high disease incidence associated with growing tomato; general crop management problems and shifting of tomato producers to production of grain food crops. These critical supply elements drive high demand for fresh tomatoes, causes inflation of fresh tomato price, opens good market for unhygienic sun-dried tomato as well as clearance for imported fresh tomatoes from neighbouring states or countries like Ghana.”
Yakassai described farmers associations as “weak, unable to innovate new ways most necessary for them to generate good income from their collective hard labour. They also lack easy access to transformative information that could boost their entrepreneurship potential.
Tomato producers in the state also generally lack the drive to mobilise their cooperative capital for investing and risk sharing. Although they have potential for economic scale production, they still prefer individual approach to produce marketing and inputs procurement.
“This makes tomato producers to experience annual post-harvest losses up to 40% during the dry season due to market glut brought by poor production planning; disorganized market transactions, lack of value addition, lack of good quality and non-existence of processing facility that would otherwise absorb the large production output across the state. Prevailing constraints in the tomato industry makes the plight of tomato farmers in the state to be depressing, hopeless and dire.”
However, Yakassai asserted that Governor Rabiu Kwankwaso has been doing a lot to find sustainable solutions to the problems farmers, including tomatoes producers, are facing in the state.
He stressed that that multiple strategies were adopted and executed through various government operatives in the attempt to put the tomato industry back on the path of success.
His words: “The export production village (EPV) project in Kura local government, Kura town is about commercial drying of tomatoes for selling in export markets. But the most effective ongoing intervention is the commodity support project implemented across the state through which a commodity support centre (CSC) is established in local government headquarters under custody of a local farmer’s cooperative, to provide private sector-oriented agribusiness services to smallholder farmers.”
Yakassai maintained that “the general objectives are to construct sustainable pathway for Kano state farm commodities to compete favourably in the global input/output farmers market; to assist local farmers transform from subsistence to commercial farming; and to trigger agribusiness intensification in the grassroots and to promote a more effective private sector role to move our agriculture forward.”
A Nationwide Problem
The national processing and packaging utilisation capacity for fruits and vegetables, including tomatoes, are 450 metric tonnes per day and 1,500 metric tonnes per day (mt/day) respectively, The national processing and packaging utilisation remain low at 150mt/day and 500mt/day, according to the ministry’s action plan document. This is less than 33 per cent capacity utilisation.
“Inadequate raw materials, especially processable varieties; high cost of processing, packaging and storage machinery and equipment; preference of farmers and middlemen to sell to urban markets than to processors; inadequate infrastructure such as water and power supply facilities,” the Action Plan document emphasised.
It also identified poor marketing structure and lack of marketing information; lack of distribution facilities (cold storage and vehicles, etc); lack of quality control mechanism and grading standards; poor packaging of tomato products; multiple levies by state and local government agents; high cost of air cargo freight; corrupt practices by officials at air and sea ports; multiple charges on products at ports; and unsteady power supply as other reasons for the huge waste of tomatoes harvested in the country.
The work plan for the transformation value chain development of tomato by the federal government for over a foour year (4Yr) period is estimated to gulp N17.8 billion.