Tomato scarcity looms as new import policy troubles Nigerian farmers
March 13, 2023180 views0 comments
By Onome Amuge
Tomato farmers under the umbrella of the Tomato Growers Association of Nigeria (TOGAN) have raised concerns over an impending decline in the production of the commodity in Nigeria following the federal government’s relaxation on import duty .
According to the association, Nigeria, ranked the second largest tomato producer in Africa and 14th in the world by the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), is likely to encounter shortage of the fruit due to the government’s recent policy which is unfavourable to local producers.
Dwelling on this, Sani Danladi Yadakwari, TOGAN Kano state chairman, said the association had gotten firsthand information that the federal government has given approval for tomato importation to nine companies with 10 per cent duty and 20 per cent levy only.
Yadakwari noted that the government’s action has largely discouraged tomato farmers from cultivating the crop this season, adding that the farmers were not consulted before it was approved.
“It is unfortunate that the federal government, at this point in time, had decided to approve the importation of tomato paste into the country. To be candid, our members received this information with nostalgia and it has drained all our efforts in tomato production,” he said.
The TOGAN chairman also pointed out that the currency scarcity inflicted by the government’s naira redesign policy as well as elections conducted in the 2023 period has hindered many tomato merchants and stakeholders from dealing in the tomato business for several days. “Most of our members have decided not to grow tomatoes this year, and coupled with the election period, Nigeria may experience a tomato shortage this year,” he added.
In the same vein, Deola Lordsbanjou, the director of Horticulture,FMARD accused the Federal Ministry of Industry,Trade and Investment (FMITI) of gratifying the callso of tomato processors to remove the levy imposed on tomato importation at the expense of the local tomato producers. He added that the free import levy has made price very uncompetive for the local farmers.
Mike Kalu, an erstwhile director of FMARD also expressed disappointment over the tomato import removal. He called on the FMITI to return the levy on importation as agreed in the 2017 policy, noting it would serve as a protection for farmers’ sustainable cultivation.
According to Kalu, the decision to allow processors embark on concentrate importations without any levy, implied that interventions by the government and FAO towards increased tomato productivity locally had become a waste to farmers.
Yazid Sadiq, a farmer, called for the return of $1500 levy on every tonne of tomato concentrate as tariff, pointing that the removal was a tactical way of killing farmers.
Speaking in defense of the levy removal, Theresa Olaogun, an industrial officer and representative of FMITI, argued that the tomato levy removal was targeted at bridging the national deficit in demand, adding that it offered the processors the opportunity to not only produce tomato paste, but also encourage backward integration.
“In the 2021 policy, we decided to give allocations to those that have invested in backward integration of tomato to import concentrate only to meet our national shortfall,” she explained.
In 2017, the federal government introduced a national tomato policy, aimed at encouraging processors to source their fresh tomatoes locally, while increasing the import duty from five to 50 per cent.
In addition, the government imposed a $1,500 levy per metric tonne of tomato imported. The government explained that the plan was not targeted at placing an outright ban on tomato importation because of its signatory to the World Trade Organization (WTO). It explained that it was a means to achieve self-sufficiency in tomato production and with further support and consistency, earn foreign exchange.
Godwin Emefiele,the CBN governor and one of the proponents of the policy,said:
“If we continue this programme in a very tenacious manner, I am sure that in two years, Nigeria will not only be self-sufficient in producing these tomatoes, we will also begin to export tomatoes.”
Unfortunately, the policy has failed to yield the desired result as the production and demand data from the National Horticulture Research Institute (NIHORT), showed that despite being a leading tomato producer in sub-Saharan Africa, the country still suffers a demand deficit.
According to NIHORT, Nigeria produces about 2.3 million tonnes of tomato annually. However, demand for direct consumption and industrial processing stood at an estimated 3.0 million tonnes, reflecting a deficit of about 700 thousand tonnes annually.
Moreso, tomato processing factories noted that local production did not offer adequate and continuous supply of tomatoes to sustain, forcing many processors to exit the market or advocate for the removal of import levies to enable them import the commodity at little cost.
Abdulahi Kura, a tomato farmer based in Kano,Nigeria’s largest tomato producing state, said that despite interventions by some international and local agro-development organisations, the agronomic constraints like the incidence of pest and diseases, physiological disorders,high post harvest losses, poorly organised rural and urban market infrastructures still persist,hindering production.
He explained that unpredictable price fluctuation also adversely affects the production and marketing of quality tomatoes.
Kura further noted that It has become a tradition that tomato farmers in Kano State annually record tomato glut which usually results in a serious loss to the farmers and this is something that can be addressed through prudently managed and periodic monitoring as well as the provision of modern storage facilities in virtually all tomato markets.
According to the tomato producer, the removal of the import levy, is more of a discouragement than a solution to improving tomato output towards national sufficiency.
He encouraged policy makers to instead focus more on providing credit facilities, adequate capacity building,training, improved varieties and inputs and incentives targeted at supporting the farmers.