In 2014, according to World Bank, Nigeria was ranked among the top five poorest countries in the world. Meanwhile seven years before then, Nigeria was the second poorest nation worldwide. Today, Nigeria is not listed among the top 30 poorest countries in the world, however, the giant of Africa is the third richest country in the continent as of 2015. This is to say a lot of progress has been made in recent years – thanks to the agricultural sector.
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Nevertheless, Dangote Group of companies has been working tirelessly round the clock to build a $20-million (18.4-million-euro) tomato processing plant outside the northern city of Kano state. Kano, which is the commercial hub of Northern Nigeria and the second largest city after Lagos, has been sabotaged by poverty and unemployment – this is seen as a key trigger to the radicalization that fuels the Islamist insurgency in the north.
With the setting up and running of the proposed tomato factory, which is the size of 10 football pitches, set alongside 17,000 hectares (acres) of irrigated fields, everything is about to change. The country’s agricultural ministry currently puts an annual demand for tomato puree at 900,000 tonnes, this is to say that tomato is highly consumed in Nigeria and adds up a lot of revenue to the economy. By the time Dangote’s factory starts operating in February 2016, it will be providing 430,000 tonnes of paste.
“Nigeria is such a huge market for tomato paste that we will find quite challenging to satisfy,” the factory’s general manager, Abdulkarim Kaita, told AFP.
“Already local tomato paste packaging companies have placed orders with us which we will have to work hard to satisfy them. We are set to begin operations. We are only waiting for the tomatoes which are ripening in the fields.”
Nigeria grows about 1.5 million tonnes of tomatoes every year, making it the 14th biggest producer in the world. But it is forced to rely on imports of tomato puree, mostly from China, because of a lack of processing plants. Dangote’s factory, built by Switzerland-based Syngenta, will directly employ 120 people and 50,000 farmers have been engaged to grow the tomatoes required for the process of making the concentrated paste.
The Central Bank of Nigeria has provided technical assistance such as soft loans for seeds and fertilizer. According to Kaita, the factory will buy the produce at competitive rates. Currently, about half of the local tomato crop rots because of a lack of storage facilities, poor pricing and access to markets, which has prompted many farmers to stop cultivation, CBN complains. The improved seed varieties to increase yields, access to chemicals, more up-to-date farming techniques and a ready market for the produce is designed to entice farmers back.
Once we start production the factory will be providing employment to farmers and (the) tomato paste packaging industry, traders, haulage operators and many others to support the tomato value chain,” said production manager Ashwin Patil. Every necessary plans to increase production and acquire an idle tomato paste factory also in Kaduna state, are in the pipeline, he added.
A tomato farmer, Yusuf Ado Kadawa, expresses his excitement in this new development and the relieve it brings to his business.
We really incur heavy losses from our yield, which rots away due to lack of ready market for our tomatoes, which is a perishable produce. But now we have a market close to us,” he said.
Meanwhile, 30 percent of Nigeria’s estimated 170 million people are employed in agriculture, which is referred to as “the new oil”, according to the former Minister of Agriculture, Akinwumi Adesina, now head of the African Development Bank. Although inadequate power supply is a major challenge in agricultural industry, factories will have to rely on diesel generators for electricity, which significantly adds up to production costs and reduces competitiveness for cheaper imports.
In the past two decades, this issue of light had contributed to the collapse of several factories owned by Dangote in Kan, including his textile and wheat flour factories. However, the vice-president of Nigeria’s manufacturers Union, Ali Madugu, said the future still looked bright as there will be no limitations once the government can place restrictions on the import of Chinese tomato pastes, to allow Dangote’s product take over the market.