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By Ukpong Ukpong

Recently, my daughters and I went shopping in a popular mall in Uyo. Our first stop was the grocery section since we needed to restock. My second daughter, who loves sampling new products spotted them first and drew our attention – neatly arranged row of various tomato products including tin tomato, sachet tomato, ketchup, puree, powder and mixed sauce all made in Akwa Ibom!

When did this happen? How come? Many questions crisscrossed my mind as I gingerly picked each item off the shelf to have a closer look. Yes, there it was – “This is an initiative of Akwa Ibom State Ministry of Trade and Investment to support food security and industrialization”. As authentic as could be imagined, the ARISE logo was proudly stamped above the batch and NAFDAC numbers. My daughters, I noticed, were sightly embarrassed as I scrutinized each product barely containing my excitement.

Who wouldn’t be elated if such a dream comes true? Don’t you think it’s possible? Well, it is. Since the tomato revolution started in 2016, there has been a significant increase in production, which brought about the idea of tomato value chain to enable farmers earn more from processing fresh tomato fruits into paste and other products. In addition to improving their lot, processing fruits and vegetables would proffer solution to poor pricing due to glut, enable them expand, employ more farmworkers and produce higher tonnage for offtakers. In all, the State economy would be better served.

Tomato can grow all year round in the State. This makes it high revenue earner because of its demand value. It falls under what is termed ‘a low hanging fruit’ in business parlance. Currently, the country produces 2.3 million metric tons of tomatoes as against the 1.8 million metric tons produced two years ago while the national demand is three million metric tonnes. This still leaves a supply-demand gap of 700, 000 metric tons, which Akwa Ibom can fill with improved tomato yields and increased tomato availability for processing.

Let’s do a little maths: 1kilogram of tomatoes goes for N2, 000 (average market price as at August, 2023). Given that 1 metric ton equals 1, 000 kilograms then 700, 000 metric tons will be (700, 000 x 1000) equal to 700, 000, 000 kilograms. Therefore, 700, 000 metric tons of tomatoes will cost (700, 000, 000 x 2000) N1, 400, 000, 000, 000 or N1.4 billion!

So, in May 2023, when farmers’ prayer for tomato processing factory was answered in Itu Local Government Area, the State government did not only make good its promise to take the vegetable revolution to another level, but it set the pace for commercial production of tomato in the State to bite a good chunk if not swallow the entire N1. 4billion hanging by.

The State Ministry of Trade and Investment was well aware of these potentials when it made a strategic plan to build the tomato factory in record time. About a year before initiating the factory project, the Ministry trained 169 youths (62 females and 107 males) in vegetable enterprise development, equipping them with requisite knowledge to go into farming vegetables specifically tomatoes.

How much more prepared do we need to be before taking the next bold steps toward creating unprecedented wealth for the State? The factory is there to provide safe landing if we produce more than required. So, what are we waiting for? Let’s join this great investment opportunity to ensure that youths are sufficiently and productively engaged in tomato production considering their critical importance to Akwa Ibom State economy and Nigeria at large.

As shown earlier, we stand to rake a minimum of N1.4 billion yearly into Akwa Ibom State economy simply by planting more tomatoes. The bigger picture is that ramping up local production will go a long way in reducing the quantity of tomatoes imported into the country, creating jobs and related business opportunities.

The skilled manpower is available in Akwa Ibom youths who have been trained for this; they are poised to increase tomato production, but they still need support from government in terms of grants and extension services. Good enough, Govenor Umo Eno has adopted Agriculture as the flagship of his economic blueprint for the State. So, the Honourable Commissioner for Ministry of Trade and Investment, Dr. John Etim, a seasoned technocrat who has a proven track record should leverage on the governor’s passion to equip the 169 trainees, his ministry trained to cultivate tomatoes.

This way, it would have contributed a great deal to this administration’s agrobased industrialization policy, boost State economy and ensure the factory does not work below installed capacity or worse still redundant.

Ukpong Ukpong, is an Agroenterprise trainer. He writes from Nnung Obong – Akai Ubium, Nsit Ubium LGA. He could be reached via email: [email protected] or phone: 08157882300.

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