Foodie Naija Update

FOODIE NAIJA UPDATE (TOMATO TROUBLES)

Nigeria must develop the enormous potential of its agro-
allied industry
A recent declaration that Nigeria is losing an estimated US$ 1
billion annually due to the importation
of processed tomato products underlines the tragedy of a
nation that has consistently refused to wean itself off its unwholesome
dependence on crude oil for its foreign exchange earnings.

This utterly unnecessary situation
is compounded by allegations that most of the imported tomato products are unfit for human
consumption because they are either fake or substandard.

Foreign businessmen are said to go to Asia, where cheap tomato products are produced through
the addition of starch and colouring, and then smuggled
into Nigeria.

Why does Nigeria waste so much of its own agricultural produce, only to import much of it in processed form at great cost in foreign
exchange?
The answer lies in the
inability of the nation to develop a fully integrated agricultural sector encompassing cultivation, transportation, storage, processing and export.

In the instance of tomato production, for example, the
country is said to waste up to 70 per cent of its annual crop mainly due to
post-harvest wastage emanating from inadequate storage and the absence of processing facilities.

Such wastage is all the more alarming
given the huge potential.
Nigeria is ranked the second largest
producer of tomatoes in Africa, and 13th in
the world.
Tomato production is
said to take up an estimated one
million hectares producing 1.701
million tonnes per annum at an average
of between 20 and 30 tonnes per
hectare.

Tomatoes are just one of a whole range of agricultural products the country is fully or potentially self-sufficient in, but which are imported in processed form from other nations.

They include rice,
oranges and other fruits. Even yam and cassava, where Nigeria’s comparative advantage is
outstanding, and whose processed products are in demand globally, are
vulnerable to this situation.

The consequences for Nigeria are obvious. Although the country’s food
import bill dropped from U.S. $7 billion to
U.S. $ 4.3 billion in
2014, the reduced amount is still
far too large for a nation that
was an agricultural superpower at
independence in 1960.
In addition, national economic development is stunted due to a consistent inability
to build up a thriving agro-allied industrial base; thriving
economies like Malaysia, South Africa, Israel and Brazil all got their initial economic boost in this way.

If Nigeria is to resolve the related
issues of post-harvest waste and the development of agro-allied industry, it must first look at the
crucial issue of crop storage.

No matter how bounteous the
nation’s harvest is, such productivity will
count for little if the crops cannot be stored. During the
Babangida era, there was a renewed
emphasis on the construction of a network of storage silos across the
nation, but it appears that successive administrations have
not displayed a similar zeal. This must change.

Another strategy is to fast-track the construction of food-
processing plants as part of the overall
agricultural expansion strategy,
and to promulgate legislation that
would reduce the importation of
processed food items.

Many companies in
the food-processing sub-sector continually complain about the
way in which cheap imports have
devastated their business. Unless
uncontrolled importation and
smuggling are fought to a standstill, there can be no sense
in setting up indigenous food-processing firms.

It might also be necessary for the
country’s politicians to lead by example, by emphasising the use of locally-processed food
products at state occasions. It is the height of hypocrisy to make all the right
noises about the agro-allied industry, only to waste scarce
resources on food imported from other
nations.
The sales of processed palm wine
are negligible in Nigeria, but the
country is one of the world’s top consumers of French
champagne.
Ultimately, the drive to develop a robust agro-allied industry and substantially reduce post-harvest
waste will require determination,
consistency and patriotism.

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