“It will take 7 years for Nigeria to go to market with her first locally made tin tomato because the specie, the Roma Tomato, required to make the paste is not cultivated in Nigeria”, says Mr. Goodluck Obi, a Lagos based key importer of tin tomato; but courtesy of the Akwa Ibom Enterprise and Employment Scheme, AKEES, 20 tonnes of this tomato specie will be ready for the market by May 2016.
AKEES was inaugurated by the Governor of Akwa Ibom State, Mr. Udom Emmanuel in December 2015, to bolster his administration’s job creation policy. The scheme is to revive the spirit of enterprising, encourage and mentor Akwa Ibom people to acquire skills and be economically productive, assisting them through franchise schemes. Their target is to reduce youth unemployment in Akwa Ibom by 50% in 4 to 5 years by raising entrepreneurs and they have been on the road getting this done for 3 months now.
In a Town-hall meeting hosted by Radio Nigeria, Atlantic FM on Thursday, the Senior Special Assistant to the Akwa Ibom State Governor on Technical Matters and due process, Mr. Ufot Ebong took time to discuss the aims, prospects, processes and achievements of AKEES with participants who came in from different parts of the state
It was in this meeting that he gave an example of a Tomato farmer who has benefited from a partnership with AKEES; the Benny Farm Ventures (BFV) at Mkpat Enin LGA. BFV had a tomato farm at Cameroun, where he cultivated the blood red Roma tomato specie that can be packaged into Tins. He came back to Akwa Ibom with some seeds and started planting at small scale.
On hearing of this farm, knowing the situation the nation is facing in acquiring the very specie of tomato for manufacturing, AKEES immediately went into partnership with BFV. They brought in sufficient seeds for planting, and in January, they cultivated 20 hectares of land in Mkpat Enin with the crop.
Their target was initially to harvest by June, but Mr Tony Onuk, a project coordinator with AKEES, confirms that by May 2016, atleast 20 tonnes of the produce will be harvested,and ready for sale both to users and for processing into the paste for canning.
This indeed is good news seeing that this crop is on the priority list of the Federal Government. An FAO report places Nigeria as the producer of tomatoes in Africa and at that ,13th in the world; but because the country does not produce the very Roma tomato specie, a whopping 11.7 Billion Naira is spent annually importing the processed paste either in cans or in drums, for canning within the country, according to a research by the University of Ibadan Research Foundation.
Mr. Obi, hinted that the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari has already invested so much in developing the Agric sub-sector in recent months. Feelers from the industry circles has it that it will take 7 years to get where Nigeria can produce enough quantity for canning. The AKEES project with BFV will certainly shorten that time as the Soil condition for cultivating the produce in Mkpat Enin is favorable, and BFV has sufficient experience in cultivating the crop; while AKEES is committed to achieving commercial quantity harvest. Meanwhile, the BFV/AKEES scheme has reserved 50 other farmers who are understudying the Mkpat Enin model, and will replicate it in other Local Government areas of the State.
As at Friday 26th February, AKEES had successfully provided employment to 1,050 Akwa Ibom people and impacted 85 businesses in the 31 local government areas of the State.