Tomato scarcity may persist
• Tomato Paste Firms Shut Down Over Shortage
Acute shortage of tomatoes across the country, linked to the low production rate of the crop has become an issue of serious concern.It was one of the reasons attributed to the shutting down of Dangote tomato paste plant in Kano during the week. While the claim on shortage of dollars needed to import raw materials, as disclosed by a senior executive officer of the plant, Devakumar Edwin, appears to be secondary, sourcing of raw tomatoes locally seems to be the major cause of the closure.
Late 2016, Erisco Foods Limited, Lagos, also closed its tomato paste plant in Lagos, eight months after opening it, with 1,500 staff members reportedly rendered jobless.
That tomato fruits are now luxury items to average Nigerians is to say the least, as the crop is gradually getting beyond the reach of the masses due to its rising price. Making a pot of stew has become a very expensive venture for the Nigerian population, as many have resorted to using canned tomato pastes to save cost.
Nigeria’s average yield in the production and processing of tomatoes is considered poor, compared with the average yield of tomato worldwide, which is about 25 tonnes per hectare. But in Nigeria, the average yield is between 12 and 13 tonnes, which is almost below half of the world average.
A farmer, James Adikpe, attributed the scarcity to the invasion of the insect pest Tuta Absoluta, a harmful leaf-mining moth, also called tomato leaf miner, with a strong preference for the tomato plant, which destroyed an estimated 40 per cent of anticipated harvest, causing prices to shoot up by 105 per cent.
He noted that due to the development, many fresh tomato sellers also resorted to purchasing the produce from neighbouring countries, especially the Republic of Benin and Cameroon, in order to keep up with supply.
The disease was reported to have spread across tomato farmlands in the northern parts, including areas in and around Makarfi, Hunkuyi, Soba and Zuntu villages in Kaduna State; in Danja, Katsina State, and in Kadawa, Dakasoye and Kura villages in Kano State, which are major tomato producing areas.
Another challenge is the high rate of post-harvest losses of harvested tomato fruits. The Guardian learnt that 75 per cent of harvested tomatoes get wasted yearly in the country, basically due to lack of storage facilities; and limited means of making use of them industrially, majorly responsible for off season shortage.
This development has led Nigerians to rely on imported tomato pastes, thus Nigeria the biggest importer of tomato paste in the world. A Professor of Horticulture, College of Plant Science and Crop Production (COLPLANT), at the Federal University of Agriculture, Abeokuta (FUNAAB), Professor ‘Goke Bodunde, who classified tomato among fruits that are vulnerable to spoilage within a very short time, said farmers could lose more than 50 per cent of their harvest.
What appears to be the major cause of the scarcity, according to stakeholders, is the effect of herdsmen onslaught on farms and areas ravaged by the Boko Haram insurgents, which paralysed farming activities.
According to an executive member of All Farmers Association of Nigeria (AFAN), Ogun State, Mr. Owoeye Solomon, the affected areas are responsible for the bulk of tomatoes supplied to the southwest, noting that since the issue of destruction of farmlands arose, the farmers have been ruing their losses, a situation that has negative effect on availability of the product.
He noted that while tomato farmers should be encouraged to do more, private sector participation in the tomato business is therefore important. “Tomato farmers should be protected over uncertainty that may eventually erupt, example, the Tomato Ebola, currently affecting tomato production in the country.”
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