The Nigerian government is losing N197bn to the importation of tomato products yearly.
President and Chief Executive Officer, Erisco Foods Limited, Ikeja, Lagos, Mr. Eric Umeofia, who made the revelation while speaking at a media briefing in Lagos recently, said a majority of the tomato brands in the market were either fake or substandard.
He lamented that Nigeria. which should be a major exporter of packaged tomato products, was the destination for adulterated tomato concentrates from Asian countries such as China.
Umeofia said, “More than 1,000 containers of packaged tomato paste come through our porous ports and borders every week. Nigeria is losing $1bn to tomato paste importation every year. These importers are mostly foreigners, and they have introduced fake tomato concentrates into this country.
“Indian businessmen went to China and asked them to produce tomato paste at a reduced cost. Of course, the Chinese did so by reducing the content of tomato and filled it up with starch and added colouring.
“Our research over two years found out that the tomato paste they bring into Nigeria is poison. In China, they can’t eat the tomato products that are being brought into this country. So, why are the Indians bringing it here? Because some government officials and regulators are aiding and abetting these practices, Nigerians will be dying?”
According to Umeofia , more than 70 per cent of tomatoes that are grown in the country waste away due to lack of storage facilities and infrastructure for processing.
“About 70 per cent of the tomatoes grown in Nigeria waste every year. The tomato farmers in Sokoto suffer great losses every year because there is no facility to store and process them and government supports importers rather than helping manufacturers.
“We decided to go into tomato refining and we have set up a factory with a capacity of 200,000 tonnes to stop importation but we have been running it at a loss. By now, we are supposed to be exporting tomato paste from Nigeria. We have the capacity and all it takes to achieve it, if government provides the right policies,” he noted.
Umeofia urged President Muhammadu Buhari to impose a ban on the importation of tomato products so as to encourage patronage of local products as manufacturing companies are folding up due to unfriendly policies.