Nigeria’s biggest tomato plant is counting on the government’s restriction of food imports to sustain operations. This appeal was made after going idle again, just six months after it resumed operations after an almost three-year shut down.
When Aliko Dangote, Africa’s richest man, decided to set up the plant, it was done with the clear goal of supplanting imports of tomato paste - which were mostly coming from China - but that process has suffered setbacks.
Currently, the 1,200-ton-a-day tomato-processing factory near the West African nation’s northern city of Kano is closed, unable to get its required feed stock as farmers have switched to other crops at the beginning of the rainy season in May.
The plant was idle for more than two years until March this year over a supply disruption partly caused by a price dispute with farmers. Even after the disagreement was resolved, the factory was unable to ramp up production beyond 20% of its capacity due to inadequate supply of tomatoes; most of the farmers lacked the needed credit to expand their production.
Some 45% of tomatoes go to waste
Nigeria consume an average of 2.3 million tons of tomatoes a year and produce just about the same amount, according to a 2017 report by PriceWaterhouseCoopers. Without adequate storage facilities and an efficient means of transporting them to the markets, about 45% of harvested tomatoes go to waste. Africa’s most populous country imports about 1.3 million tons of the red vegetable to fill the gap, mostly from China and other parts of Asia. Nigeria is the third largest importer of the commodity in Africa.
Unfazed by the problems, Dangote Farms is pushing ahead with its original objective of replacing tomato-paste imports. With President Muhammadu Buhari making the reduction of food imports a key objective of his administration, the Nigerian central bank is implementing a new credit plan intended to help the farmers grow tomatoes all year round.