Africa’s richest man Aliko Dangote is hoping to change tomato production with a giant factory that will boost domestic output, create jobs. For the past five years, the Dangote Group conglomerate he heads has been working to build a $20-million (€18.4-million) tomato processing plant outside the northern city of Kano.
It’s hoped the giant factory the size of 10 football pitches, set alongside 17,000 hectares (acres) of irrigated fields, will help by tapping a potential agricultural goldmine. The country’s agriculture ministry puts annual current demand for tomato puree at 900,000tons. When the Dangote factory opens from next month it will provide 430,000tons of paste that is used widely in Nigerian dishes from jollof rice to fiery soups.
“Nigeria is such a huge market for tomato paste that we will find quite challenging to satisfy,” the factory’s general manager, Abdulkarim Kaita said. “Already local tomato paste packaging companies have placed orders with us which we will have to work hard to satisfy. We are set to begin operations. We are only waiting for the tomatoes which are ripening in the fields.”
Nigeria grows some 1.5 million tons of tomatoes every year, making it the 14th biggest producer in the world. But it’s forced to rely on imports of tomato puree, mostly from China, because of a lack of processing plants. Dangote’s factory (built by Switzerland-based Syngenta,) will directly employ 120 people and 50,000 farmers have been engaged to grow the tomatoes required for the process of making concentrate.
Currently, about half of the local tomato crop rots because of a lack of storage facilities, poor pricing and access to markets, which has prompted many farmers to stop cultivation, but with improved seed varieties to increase yields, access to chemicals, more up-to-date farming techniques and a ready market for the produce is designed to entice farmers back.
“Once we start production the factory will be providing employment to farmers and (the) tomato paste packaging industry, traders, haulage operators and many others to support the tomato value chain,” said production manager Ashwin Patil. Plans to increase production and acquire an idle tomato paste factory in neighboring Kaduna state are in the pipeline, he added.
Some 30% of Nigeria’s estimated 170 million people are employed in agriculture, mostly at a subsistence level, although moves have been made to commercialize production.