Gote: Now is the Time to Stop Tomato Importation

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 In this interview with Ibrahim Shuaibu, the Chairman and promoter of Dangote Tomatoes Processing Company in Kano, Alhaji Sani Gote, speaks on the capacity of his company to meet local demand, stressing the need to stop importation of substandard products

What is the idea behind the construction a tomatoes processing factory?
As you are all aware that for many decades, farmers engaged in farming tomatoes have been suffering huge losses due to lack of processing capacity of any size, so, I came up with a project known as Dangote Farms. It was set up to process each day, 1200 tons of fresh tomatoes and this is the first phase, our plan is to double the size by next year if everything goes well as planned. We have been working together with farmers for the past two and half years since we started building the project to ensure that they are part of the project. As you know, there are over 39 cooperatives with over 42, 000 families that are within this farming community; and they are fully engaged in farming tomatoes and other crops.

I have been working together with an international reputable company to provide high-breed seedling for them. We have been working in conjunction with the state ministry of agriculture, Federal Ministry of Agriculture and other non-governmental organisations to make sure that the farmers are put together in different cooperatives and give them the necessary awareness and understanding of the importance of this project.

We are also able to work with them hand-in-hand to ensure the success of the project and improve their farming practices so that they can get the maximum yield. This factory is to work throughout the year to ensure that farmers also plant throughout the year and also be able to provide tomatoes paste that will serve the need of Nigerians throughout the year. We also ensure that we have the capacity not only to meet the local demand but also to export. By God’s grace, in few years from now, Nigeria will be proud to become a net exporter of tomatoes paste. And our delight is that this factory will enrich over 100, 000 different people; most especially, the farmers who now can see their tears wiped away.

What is the size of the workforce?
Like I said, there are about 40, 000 families farming in this community and they are all planting tomatoes that will be processed in the factory. There will be the logistic side in the employment; there will be people who will be supplying things like basket, fertiliser and other needs of the farmers. There are other industries that will need the paste. What we are doing here is to package 240 kilos which many industries that need tomatoes paste are importing from China, Italy and the USA.  They no longer need to import because we are producing 100 per cent of what they import and these are made by Nigeria and for Nigerians. So, I cannot count the number of people that are going to be directly employed. I know directly, there are over 40, 000 families that are farmers. Secondly, the industry will employ over 200 workers. If we double our capacity, that will be more. Then, there are other services that are going to be around. I can assure you that in two months’ time, the value of land around this area will be different because of the factory.

The only call we are making to the government is to ensure that they stop importation of tomato paste because it will kill the ambition of the farmers and our own ambition. So we call on all the stakeholders, from the farmers, the factory, the state and Federal Government to work together and make it a success. We pray that we Nigerians will wake up and ensure that it is a success because there is nothing better than empowering your farmers, your own people rather than empowering other countries; and become dependent on their products while we can produce it 100 per cent and even export to other countries. So, I believe that the number of employment is enormous and poverty can only be eradicated by providing jobs and meaningful life to the society.

How would you describe the quality of the product?
Quality is hundred per cent fresh. There is nothing fresher than what we will be producing here. As you can see, the factory is situated right in the middle of the farm. So, it takes few minutes or less than an hour for the tomatoes to reach the factory from any area; and once it is processed, we keep it for two days for quarantine to ensure that there is no bacterial infection. Then in the next two days, it is going to the market and Nigerians are buying tomatoes that are just produced and not the ones that are produced more than a year even before they were imported. You can go to the farm and you will see the trucks bringing in fresh tomatoes every day. This factory can consume 40 trucks of fresh tomatoes every day.

How do you intend to distribute the products to the market?
We are talking to the importers to stop importation. We sensitise them that they no longer need to go and start looking for foreign exchange, take our money and go there for importation. They should come to us, they don’t even need to be here, they can send their orders and we guarantee them delivery within six days; unlike when it took them 40 days to 60 days from where they are importing; and these are fresh tomatoes. They will directly pay in naira; they don’t have to pay in dollars. So, the country’s foreign reserves will not be depleted by importation of tomatoes paste.

What about the market?
The market is there. Nigerians consume over 300, 000 tons of tomato paste which if you convert it; it is over 1.5 million tons of fresh tomatoes, which is crazy. So, the market is here because Nigeria is the biggest importer of tomatoes paste in Africa. So, whatever we are producing is just certain percentage of the demand. We are sure that if the right policies are put in place, by next three years, this factory can come to the size that it can meet the demands of the country.

How much money is committed in building the factory?
So far, we have invested over N2.5 billion; and it is ready as you can see. There is more money to be spent because we want to make sure that we build certain collection centres so that farmers can weigh their products at the collection centres. There, they already know the weight and when they reach our factory, they also weigh again and we are engaging a reputable superintendent company that will work with them and monitor them on a daily basis to make sure that they are putting the right agricultural practices to ensure that they get the maximum yield. We will continue to spend more money so longer as all the stakeholders are making necessary efforts to ensure the success of the factory.

You see, one of the most important thing we need to look at is that currently, all the tomato paste we eat are coming from China and the Chinese too are now becoming jittery because of this factory coming into operation which means we are going to stop their market. The natural thing the Chinese will do is to reduce their price of paste so as to under-cut whatever we are going to supply to the local market; so, that is one area the government will have to come in with policies to put tariff in place so that all these pastes, most of which are substandard, coming into Nigeria be stopped from coming. That is one of the things that will ensure the survival of this country and the economic viability we are trying to build up here that has to do with the farmers because if this factory stops running, the investment of the farmers will go for nothing.

Currently, from the survey we have, the farmers yield is about 10 tons per hectare. From the trial of the high breed, we have seen 60 tons per hectare. This is a seed that can grow up to 100 tons per hectare. It has been tried in other countries in Africa that has similar climatic conditions with Nigeria. The farmers can hit up that value. So you can imagine in the same piece of land that you get 10 tons, now you are getting 50 to 60, so, you can imagine how it can boost the economic conditions of farmers in this area.

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