Stakeholders have urged the federal government to allow for more time before executing the 50 per cent tariff on imported tomatoes concentrates.
Because of the urgency of the situation, the Federal Executive Council (FEC) had announced a new policy for tomato, aimed at reducing N52 billion spent on the annual importation of over 150,000 metric tons of tomatoes concentrate through neighbouring countries into the Nigeria.
The policy was aimed at promoting local production of fresh tomato fruits required for consumption and processing as well as increase local production of tomato concentrate and reduces post-harvest losses.
The policy, which was expected to create at least 60,000 additional jobs in fresh fruits production and processing, only restricts the importation of tomato concentrates to the seaports to address the abuse of the ECOWAS Trade Liberalisation Scheme (ETLS).
Current demand for fresh tomato fruits is estimated at about 2.45 million metric tons per annum, while the country produces only about 1.8 million metric tons per annum.
Investigation by LEADERSHIP revealed that tomato paste plays its role, primarily as a substitute for fresh tomatoes when there is reduced availability.
While tomato paste variants are used to shore up supply and reduce scarcity, it is also a very good way to store tomatoes that would ordinarily go bad in their natural and fresh state being a seasonal crop with Nigeria still lacking adequate storage facilities.
LEADERSHIP recalls that, while the CBN had eliminated stiff conditions in applying for Basic Travel Allowances, (BTA), the gesture was not extended to items among the 41 the CBN restricted foreign exchange on the premise of the need to promote backward integration and strengthen the nation’s currency and save it from unwarranted volume of importations.
Stakeholders, whose businesses were among the items denied forex were not obviously on the same page with the CBN on the success of the policy.
Those in the tomato production agro sector are lamenting that the demand for the paste had outstripped supply ever since the bank started implementing forex with the attendant massive mark-up of price.
Besides, they said profiteering has been the order of the day, with substandard tomato pastes flooding the market as unsuspecting consumers suffer the backlash.
They reasoned that before local production of the crop starts and becomes self-sufficient, government should not be in a haste to throw away the bathwater with the baby thereby creating more problems than solutions.
The Spokesman of the Tomato Growers Association of Nigeria, Richard Mbaram, told LEADERSHIP Friday that placing a punitive duty regime on tomato imports was an appropriate policy stance.
He said, “Nigeria had the in-country capacity to produce enough for its local demand and export to other West African states, but it has not exploited that over time because of policy challenges.’’
On the Smuggling activities, Mbaram lauded the policy, advising the government to be mindful of smuggling and the need for the Customs to be brought into its implementation.
“If you don’t have their buy-in and consistent support, you will have a situation where the smugglers will run the policy aground”, he said, adding that “it is equally placing restriction on the importation of tomato concentrate to the seaports to address the abuse of the ECOWAS Trade Liberalisation Scheme”.
Mbaram disclosed that Nigeria ranks 16th on the global tomato production scale, accounting for 10.79 per cent of Africa’s production.
Some of the stakeholders who spoke with correspondent commended the federal government on the initiatives.
The Director-General of the Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI), Muda Yusuf, commended the policy and said that it would promote and encourage local production of tomato and the creation of more jobs in the tomato industry.
He also urged government to create a balance between the welfare of the people and the economic philosophy of economic nationalism in its policy by addressing major production problems like high cost of transportation, high energy cost, challenges of storage and processing of agricultural products, productivity issues, agricultural mechanization issues and many more that account for high food prices.
The chairman of Conserveria Africana Limited (CAL), producers of ‘GINO’ and ‘POMO’ branded tomato pastes in Nigeria, Alhaji Francis Ogboro, affirmed other stakeholders’ position that though the policy will hurt operators, the company will not relent in its backward integration agenda.
The chief executive officer, Erisco Foods Limited, Chief Eric Umeofia, who also acknowledged that the policy was not new said, “The important thing is to implement the policy. Government should see to the implementation of the policy. If we support our industries, we will grow the economy and avoid people committing suicides”.
The President, Manufacturers Association of Nigeria (MAN), Frank Jacobs, said that although the new policy was commendable, most domestic manufacturers needed time to adequately backward integrate so as not to incur losses. “We are all aware that before the assumption of the new”, he said.
Jacobs urged the federal government to allow for more time before executing the 50 per cent tariff on imported tomatoes concentrates.
He said that the gesture would allow local manufacturers to undertake backward integration, adding that the present time given by government was inadequate.”
The MAN president said that the new policy needs to be enforced at an inter-ministerial level, supervised by the presidency because there was an aspect of economic sabotage involved in the problem which gave rise to the crafting of the policy in the first place.
He added that on the other hand, if the policy fails to hit its target, it will open the floodgates of a new kind of corruption and decadence, while attracting global ridicule to the government and its people.
He said, “The good thing is that Nigerians can easily know when the policy is going off-the-path. The litmus test of the policy is in its enforcement. I choose not to use the word, implementation.
“However, before we are carried away by the yet-to-be-materialised plans of the Federal Government, let us tell ourselves the hard truth. Nigeria is not lacking in good ideas, policies and master plans; the problem lies in their effective and efficient implementation.
“The New Tomato Policy has all the potential to be the first policy-driven arrow to hit recession and underdevelopment at its head and set the pace for liberating Nigeria from the shackles of dependency and food insecurity”.