How Local tomato processing firm lost N3.6b to fake paste importers.

By: Desmond Julius-Abuja

By encouraging foreign investors to import tomato pastes into the country, foremost indigenous tomato producing firm, Erisco Foods Limited has lost about N3.6 billion in investment.

The local firm which sources its main raw material (tomatoes) from tomato farmers in the northern part of the country lost the huge sum to foreign businessmen from Lebanon, China and India who flooded the nation with substandard pastes.

The nation is also reported to risk losing $1b if the trend persists, as a result of tomato paste imports.

Investigations revealed that the firm got little backing from the current administration especially the Federal Ministry of Trade and Investments (FMTI) and National Agency for Food Drug Administration Control (NAFDAC) despite advocacy for promoting Made-in-Nigeria goods.

According to Chief Executive Officer, Erisco Foods, Chief Eric Umeofia, the menace of post harvest losses of tomato has been reduced due to direct purchase of the commodity from the local farmers.

However, as a result of the huge loss recorded within three years of commencing operation, he has decided to shut its tomato paste processing plant and relocate outside the country in less than 30 days.

Management of the firm said they had to take the decision due to sad situations including partiality in accessing Forex.

He blamed some officials of the Ministries Departments and Agencies (MDAs), promoting foreign organisations and selected individual importers at the detriment of local industries, stressing that bureaucrats in the public service were paying lip service to supporting Made-In-Nigeria products.

Umeofia said though, normal business operation will commence except for the suspension of the processing plant which according to him would affect over 2000 employees currently engaged by the organization.

He added that tomato paste farmers who supplies the farm produce worth N4 billion would also be affected while post-harvest losses on tomato may persist.

He said the processing plant which has the capacity of producing 450, 000 metric tons of tomato annually could have helped the country achieve self-sufficiency in tomato production by December, 2016 and export by 2017.

“Your Excellency sir, we wish to repeat here that we cannot beg for our right to help government diversify our economy as we have lost over N3.6 billion in our bid to industrialize the Nigerian economy via tomato processing and we have satisfied our conscience and very ready to move our tomato production section to another country after expiration of the 30-days notice.

“We can buy forex at the rate of N750.00 per dollar as at today to import tomato paste into Nigeria and still make huge profit. Some MDAs and our financial institutions are still creating overnight billionaires through provision of free money via their strong support for importation. Based on this, we have no choice than to join importers of finished products (tomatoes) into Nigeria, though very painful as we don’t want you to fail economically.

“Our relocation to another country will further diminish the capacity of our economy to grow and consequently affect negatively all known economic development indices……we bet fresh tomatoes will continue to waste in the farms while Nigeria will be spending $1 billion to import same products annually”, Umeofia said.

Speaking on 2, 400 hectares given to the firm by Katsina State government for tomato production, Umeofia disclosed that the firm had completed plans to return the Certificate of Occupancy (C of O) to the state.

He added that his investment in the state has been given to the state government due to their supports and partnership towards boosting the economy.

“We thank the Katsina State governor, Alh. Aminu Masari and the good people of Katsina state for their supports and all efforts to create a conducive environment to industrialize their state but the import cabals do not want him to succeed. No we have no choice than to return the C of O of over 2400 hectares issued to us….all we have invested in the Katsina state project is hereby given to the state government.” He added.

 

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