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Nigeria 2017 | AGRICULTURE | FOCUS: TOMATOES

Nigeria is the world's largest importer of tomato paste. Industry efforts to increase yields have been hampered by insect infestations and policies that put domestic producers at a disadvantage.

No matter how it is pronounced, the tomato is one of Nigeria's staple crops. Traditional dishes like jollof rice and tomato stew depend on the fruit, making it one of the most widely eaten food items in the country and a key product of the agricultural industry. However, recent moth infestations in the north of the country have affected yields and thrown the future of the crop into question. Careful planning and government action will be needed to protect the future of the versatile crop.

Nigeria is the world's 13th largest tomato producer, with approximately 200,000 Nigerians growing 1.5 million metric tons of tomatoes every year. However, it is the single largest importer of tomato paste due to production capacities that cannot meet supply and difficulties in connecting small farmers to processing facilities. Additionally, a June 2015 study of the tomato value chain in the country reported that more than half of all fresh tomatoes produced in Nigeria every year are lost to due to inadequate logistical and storage systems. The lack of adequate infrastructure for tomato paste processing means that tomato farmers face a smaller market for their tomatoes, putting them in a more precarious economic position and limiting growth of the sector. The importance of the tomato to the agricultural sector means that shifts in supply or prices have outsized effects on the small farmers who grow the majority of the nation's tomatoes and the consumers who buy them.

Supply issues have been compounded by a moth infection in the north. In May 2016, the Kaduna state government declared a state of emergency due to the damage caused by the larvae of the tomato leaf miner moth (Tuta absoluta). Native to South America, the moth eats the entire tomato plant and is capable of eliminating entire crops in a matter of weeks. Government officials estimated that up to 80% of tomato farms had been attacked by the moths, crippling supply and leading to a 400% increase in tomato prices. One of the agricultural sector's immediate goals is to combat the spread of the disease. The moth quickly develops resistance to pesticides; therefore, careful application and education of farmers will be needed to eliminate the threat. The Nigerian National Research Institute for Chemical Technology has developed a pesticide, but coordination will be needed to distribute the pesticide and train farmers.

The fall in supply has also affected the upstream part of the tomato processing industry. Erisco Foods Ltd., which operates the fourth-largest tomato processing plant in Nigeria, announced plans to move production to Kenya, Cameroon, Cote d'Ivoire, and Ethiopia in November 2016. The plant is capable of producing 450,000 metric tons of tomato paste and ketchup a year but is currently operating at less than 20% capacity. Government regulations have made it difficult to access foreign currency and company executives said the government has banned it from accessing currency to import machines and raw materials, putting it at a competitive disadvantage against tomato paste importers. The company also claimed government policies have privileged Chinese, Indian, and Lebanese firms, making it more cost-efficient to produce elsewhere and import than it is to produce domestically, allowing foreign firms to flood the market with low-quality paste. Nigerian tycoon Aliko Dangote has been affected as well; his recently opened Dangote Tomato Processing Factory was forced to close for the year due to a lack of tomatoes. The USD20 million facility was constructed as part of a plan to increase processing capacity and capture more of the value along every level of the production chain, and its closure is a major blow the nation's hopes for self-sufficiency.

Moving forward, the industry will need to distribute solutions to the moth problem and work with the government to find a solution for the foreign imports that price out Nigerian industry. Initial trials on pesticides to kill moths in their pupal stages have been effective, but widespread application will be a daunting task. The industry must also come to an agreement with the government on tomato imports. Nigerian tomato producers have noted that the government has banned imports of certain goods and hope to see the same with tomato paste, though this appears unlikely at the present. With the agricultural sector poised for growth in the coming years, solving the country's tomato problem will continue to be an issue of the highest priority.