When one says “Tomato Jos” in Nigeria, what automatically comes to mind is “cute girl”. However, the popular Nigerian term of endearment is set to have a dual meaning now with the launch of an indigenous tomato paste manufacturing company in Nigeria called “Tomato Jos”.
The past few years has been a challenging one for oil producing countries like Nigeria. As the Shale Oil revolution continues to advance, oil rich countries are increasingly being hard hit by their depleting crude oil exports to many leading world economies. For instance, only four years ago, Nigeria was one of the top-5 oil suppliers to United States and this year the country did not export a single barrel of crude oil to the U.S – for the first time since 1973 according to official records.
This is why when we got wind of “Tomato Jos,” we got excited.
Tomato Jos is interesting to us on several fronts.
First, there is the timing factor which is bolstered by the urgent need for more resources and capital to be deplored into rapidly expanding Nigeria’s agriculture base. The negative impact of the adoption of Shale Oil globally to Nigeria’s bottom line escalates the urgency for economic diversification.
Second, there is the branding element which in our opinion is brilliant. The “Tomato Jos” reference and brand brings a fresh and exciting face to a sector which many young Nigerians might ordinarily not find very exciting.
To learn more about the company, we caught up with Tomato Jos‘ CEO, Mira Mehta.
Mira Mehta started working in Nigeria about 6 years ago as a Program Manager at the Clinton Health Access Initiative’s (CHAI) Abuja office. CHAI is former U.S. President, Bill Clinton’s global initiative to address the global HIV/AIDS crisis and strengthen health systems around the world. Taking the lead from governments and working with partners, CHAI works to improve markets for lifesaving medicines and diagnostics, lower the costs of treatments, and expand access to life-saving technologies — creating a sustainable model that can be owned and maintained by governments.
Through her work at CHAI, Mira made several field visits to remote villages and towns in Nigeria where much needed life saving medicines needed to be deployed for patients living with HIV/AIDs. During one of her visits, she noticed vast swats of tomato farms spanning the road from Abuja to Kano, but she also noticed that there were lots of tomatoes just lying on the road. Why were so many seemedly healthy and supple tomatoes going to waste? On further investigation, she learnt more about how Nigerian farmers were often unable to sell their tomatoes due to crashing prices. Ordinarily, this surplus amount of tomatoes should be good fodder for making tomato paste since tomatoes are such an important staple of the Nigerian diet. However, she soon discovered that with the advent of oil, Nigeria’s agricultural and manufacturing base was paid little attention leading to many tomato paste factories that existed in the past not being able to run sustainably. Today, Nigeria is the largest importer of tomato paste in the world importing over $500 million worth of tomato paste annually and foreign brands such as De Rica and Gino dominate the market. Sad.
Mira went on to get an MBA at the Harvard Business School (HBS) in 2012 but her passion for the sector and interest in helping Nigerian small holder farmers stayed with her.
After HBS, she returned to Nigeria to build out her idea more fully and Tomato Jos was born.
The team has an on-going campaign on crowdfunding site Kickstarter and more than 500 people have already backed the company. Their original goal was to raise $50,000. They have since exceeded the goal and have raised over $52,000.
The Nigerian government has for sometime now been trying to generate excitement to get young involved agriculture. Using the power of the internet and social media, the team at Tomato Jos appears to be leading the charge in what creating a youth led agriculture consumer brand can look like – not just one that is interested in making profit, but one that is also interested in doing good by empowering farmers.
If you are as excited as we are about what the team at Tomato Jos are trying to do to empower small holder farmers in Nigeria, be sure to donate on their Kickstarter page here.
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