Tomatoes (Lycopersicon esculentum Mill.) is believed to have originated around Ecuador and Chile on the western coast of South America, but first domesticated in Mexico. It is now widely grown across the world. Globally, the diversity of tomato products has led to the increased processing of tomatoes to meet the growing demand for the different types of tomato products.
Studies have shown that tomatoes have significant nutritional value. They are important sources of lycopene, a powerful antioxidant that acts as an anti-carcinogen. They also provide vitamins and minerals. A medium ripe tomato of approximately 145 grams can provide up to 40 per cent of the recommended daily allowance of Vitamin C and 20 per cent of Vitamin A while also contributing Vitamin B, potassium, iron, and calcium to the diet. The use as food and as raw material in products such as ketchup, paste and sauce, etc, has increased its production around the world.
Speaking to Science Nigeria, a food nutritionist, Bukola Idowu, said Nigeria is the 14th highest producer of tomatoes in the world. She is, however, 4th in hectares harvested and not a dominant player in the global market for value-added tomato products, due to her abysmal 160th position in terms of yield. The average yield under the farmers’ condition is about 15-30 MT/ha as against over 90MT/ha in other more developed climes for most varieties.
According to her, although tomatoes can be cultivated in all the ecological zones of the country, national annual production is only about 1.8 million metric tonnes, even as national demand is estimated at 2.4 million tonnes. Also, due to lack of storage facilities, ailing processing industries and poorly developed marketing channels, up to 50 per cent of the tomatoes produced suffer post-harvest damage, widening the gap between demand and supply.
“For instance, 62,205.06 MT of tomato paste, the equivalent of 407,572.39MT of fresh tomato valued at about ₦16b was imported in 2020. The importation of triple concentrate tomato, the major raw material for the production of canned tomatoes in 2020 alone was about 653,715.12 tonnes, which amounted to N4.41 billion, while that of ketchup and other sauces was over N2.96 billion,” she said.
Sequel to this, the director-general of the Raw Materials Research and Development Council (RMRDC), Prof. Hussaini Ibrahim, said the unsavoury scenario prompted the current administration to include the processing of tomatoes into the paste and other products as a major strategy for achieving the industrial component of its Economic Growth and Recovery Plan, in 2016. This led to the ban on importation of tomato paste, powder and concentrate put up for retail and others HS Code 2002.90.20.00, tomatoes prepared or preserved otherwise by vinegar or acetic acid and others HS Codes 2002.10.00; 2002.90.19.00; 2002.90.90.00 and the inclusion of tomato ketchup and other sauces HS Code 2103.20.00.00. The policy also led to the increase in the tariff on non-triple concentrate and other concentrates HS Code 2002.90.11.00 from 5 per cent to 50 per cent and an additional levy of $1500/MT.
He said the result of the policy was a renewed interest and investments in local processing of tomatoes championed by Dangote Industries, Savannah Integrated Farms Ltd, Tomato Jos, GBFoods, Erisco Foods Ltd., and other entrepreneurs. However, despite these gains, the policy may suffer a setback if corresponding structures are not put in place. For instance, internal industrial capacity is low due mainly to scarcity of processing grade tomato fruits coupled with high, post-harvest losses, poor yield per hectare, high production costs and competition from cheap imports which makes domestic processing non-competitive. In search of safeguards, the council commenced an assessment of the tomato industry across its value chains, to checkmate further decline.
According to him, the outcome of the assessment recommended aggressive production of processing grade fruits through captive, contract and out-growers’ farming schemes across states with favourable climate for tomato production, increased research and development on improved seeds’ development, small-scale processing (to feed larger packers), improved agricultural practices and extension services to ameliorate the identified challenges.
“Following this, RMRDC initiated a programme directed at increasing production of industrial varieties of tomato at competitive cost among farmers and to promote backward integration amongst processors. The programme also aimed at increasing the average yield of tomato and improving its attributes, reduce post-harvest losses through increased processing and reduce input cost; and stimulating investments in commercial farming and processing facilities. Through the programme, the council has provided improved tomato seeds to vegetable farmers in more than 28 states of the federation since the 2015/16 cropping season. Benefiting states such as Plateau, Nasarawa, Niger, Kano, Kaduna Oyo, Benue, Gombe, Katsina, Kebbi, Ebonyi, Ondo, Enugu, Katsina, Kwara, Lagos, Ogun, Akwa Ibom, Kebbi, Delta, Jigawa, and Sokoto have cumulatively received more than three metric tonnes of improved, open-pollinated tomato seeds with proven viability across all ecological regions. The project adds over 150,000 MT of processing grade tomato to the national output yearly since 2017 and yield/ha improved to an average 40MT/ha amongst practising formers who adhere to good agricultural practices,” he said.
The RMRDC boss further stated that more recently, as part of efforts at developing the tomato value chain, the council embarked on a sensitisation programme to improve the quality attributes of tomato fruits by demonstrating to farmers agronomic best practices in the production and handling of top-grade fresh tomato fruits. Also, the council produces periodic advisory briefs on the development of the tomato value chain in Nigeria.
Ibrahim said the main thrust of the briefs was to help re-shape the thinking of actors in the tomato sub-sector by facilitating access to evidence-based current information, adding that this is intended to develop a template for decision-making that will enhance global competitiveness in the tomato industry.
“Among other achievements, the council also embarked on a seed saving scheme. A Riyom, tomato village-based ‘community seed saving scheme’ was initiated to increase farmers’ access to high-performing tomato seeds in 2017. The Plateau State government, through the Ministry of Agriculture, provided a 10-hectare (ha) piece of arable land for the council at the ministry’s Agro-Services Centre, Riyom, for a tomato village. Adjacent to the land is a stream that provided water for irrigation purposes during the dry season. A storage facility, built by the state government is also located near the farmland. With these facilities, the Council was able to step up its activities on the tomato productivity improvement initiative. A unique feature of the project was that the harvest of fruits from the pilot farms was undertaken in April which was considered to be off-season for tomato cultivation by natives who participated in the project. Also, the council successfully achieved automated extraction and drying of seeds in the next exercise, in collaboration with Savannah Farms Ltd, Dadin Kowa, Gombe State, following the success at Riyom,” he stated.
Furthermore, the RMRDC helmsman said in collaboration with some investors and an equipment fabricator based in Kaduna the Council is currently promoting the establishment of (1-5 MT/day) processing plant.
He said it is expected that major players in the industry would continue to work with synergy especially, since the Council targets competitiveness in tomato value chain development through effective stakeholders’ collaboration. In this regard, research institutes such as NBTI, NABDA, NARICT, Zaria and NIHORT, Ibadan, would be encouraged to continue to work with the industries for equipment, products development and backward integration purposes to solidify the academia, industry nexus in the sub-sector.
“To further strengthen tomatoes value chain development in Nigeria, the Council is working towards the establishment of functional tomatoes’ processing village locally. Although, there had been a surge in the number of tomato processing factories in Nigeria between 2016 and date, it would appear that national demand for tomato paste cannot be met soon, due to paucity of processing grade tomato fruits. This is more so, that most of the recently established plants are of very large capacities that may require over a million metric tonnes of fresh fruits. This appears difficult, but succour may exist in having several small concentrate factories to service the larger few.
“Consequently, the council is working on the establishment of an all-inclusive tomato village with field production and a 10-tonne/hr small-scale concentrating plant. A survey of locally fabricated concentration plants through reverse engineering of imported prototypes indicates that efficiency remains a challenge. As a result, the government has initiated collaboration with Agri-Foodcity in Ontario, Canada, on the establishment of a 10-tonne/day tomato paste plant. In furtherance to this, Agri-foodcity, led by its president, Mr Bill Thomas of the Thomas Canning Inc of Canada has consented to seek a grant to finance the establishment of a tomato village on a 10-hectare location to be provided by RMRDC and to provide training for selected farmers on agronomic best practices in tomato farming. It is hoped that if this initiative is maintained and sustained, the production and processing of tomatoes can be increased exponentially in Nigeria,” he added.