Uche Usim, Kaduna
Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Mr Audu Ogbe, and the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Mr Godwin Emefiele, on Monday, commissioned the N2 billion Gino Tomatoes ultramodern processing factory in Kaduna State, with a declaration that agriculture revolution in Nigeria was now in full blast as a major economic diversification fulcrum.
The factory, established for tomato paste production, sits atop 100 hectares space, with a farming area of about 30 hectares.
Speaking at the commissioning ceremony, Emefiele said plans were afoot to ban milk importation and save the foreign exchange on it by replicating the Gino Tomatoes success strategy in milk production.
According to him, the days of importing food items that can be produced locally were numbered, as Nigeria has no business importing them judging by her vast arable lands and friendly weather.
He said: “We must thank Mr President for telling all of us that it is time we produce what we eat and eat what we produce.
“From planting to harvesting of tomatoes is between 60-90 days. Our soil is good, our climate is good, so I don’t see any reason why we shouldn’t be doing what we are doing here today.
“I don’t even know how we have done this in the past, importing these tomatoes. We’ve no option than to ban this (tomatoes).
“There are other products as well. I keep talking about milk for instance. Milk is being imported into the country for more than 60 years, even before I was born. And I’ve told WAMPCO that we need to come back. What do they need to produce milk? Is it not to fatten the cow, give it the necessary nutrients and water and it’ll produce more milk? And yet they said milk cannot be produced in Nigeria. We will confront that. They too should get ready to join in this train,” Emefiele said.
The CBN governor said the apex bank was working closely with the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, Trade and Investment to aggressively and vigorously pursue the objective of diversifying the structure of the Nigerian economy.
“My selfish interest here is that up till very recently, we still were importing tomatoes into the country, whereas we could save the foreign exchange. And this time, we’re saving the foreign exchange. We thank Gino Tomatoes for coming onboard. When they asked for a period of five years, I said no that a period of planting and harvesting is not more than two years and that we are ready to fund you to bring in the equipment. And that we’re ready to fund you in local currency if you need to acquire land. I think we must also thank the Kaduna State government for supporting this company because I understand they will be giving them thousands of hectares of land. This is just like a testing ground.
“By the time we move to the permanent site, I’m sure we would all have stories to tell about the good things of Nigeria. “Many more will happen. Whether we like it or not, as long as we’re producing this for our consumption and possibly for export, there’s no choice other than to ban this.
Earlier in his remarks, the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Audu Ogbe said the country was fast approaching the target of self-sufficiency in many aspects of agriculture.
He said: “We saw something in Kano and we’re seeing another here in Kaduna. We’ve always known that it’s a matter of shame that Nigeria imports tomatoes from outside the country.
“We have the climate, the soil but over the years, policies have been rather wobbly, shaky, so this administration decided that it is time to do something more concrete.
“It’s nice to see what is going on here with the automation and irrigation system. This underscores our belief that when people talk job creation on television, we talk about it on the ground.
And we’re emphasizing the point that a country either produces or perishes. Importation of everything we can produce is not the answer.
“The CBN has been pushing the funding of agriculture programmes with direct support by funding through programmes in the Ministry of Agriculture. People have called him names and criticized him. But if he had not devised the means of bypassing the mountains of obstacles confronting production in this country, by today, the story of Nigeria would have been a horrible one. We’re proud of the investments being made.
“Soon, we’re going to be exporting tomatoes. It’s going to happen faster than people think. So, let the smugglers be aware; production not smuggling, production, not importation – definitely not the importation of what we can produce.
“Our children have to have jobs; our farmers have to have jobs for a good living. We’ve abandoned them in the bush for too long”, he explained.
Also speaking at the event, Dr Teddy Ngu of Gino Tomatoes said the company was motivated by government’s encouragement for Nigerians to go back to agriculture.
“That encouragement from the Ministry of Agriculture, the CBN Governor helped us to move quickly. In Europe, we’re the largest producers of tomato concentrate and we wanted to bring that same scale and capability to Nigeria.
“The climate is good and the soil is good. We believe in the personnel that can give us this kind of yields that we look for in this country. The government is encouraging. It’s time for us to start moving forward.
“We will continue to knock on the doors of CBN, the doors of the Ministry of Agriculture, Kaduna State Government and Ministry of Trade to ensure that we get the support we need to get these things on set.
“Besides, this whole area we rented is about 100 hectares, this farm area is about 30 hectares. We’ve already cultivated about 16 hectares and we will continue to plant the entire area. We plant in phases so that we can harvest in phases so that we keep our factory running continuously. In the long run, we are going to move to a 3,000 hectares (3,000 football fields). That is what we’re going to be doing in a short while. We’ve invested over N2billion of our money. CBN has been supporting us by giving us foreign exchange in bringing the equipment that we have now. “We’ve employed over 50 people on site at the moment. A lot of the technicians You See on site are people who have been trained over time. They have never done this type of job before.
“The automatic planters are the first in Sub-Saharan Africa. Here we train them and show them how to do it. We’ve trained them and they’re able to do it. We’ve empowered local agronomists. We’re creating jobs for Nigerians and we want to paint Nigeria red with the best tomatoes you can find anywhere in the world”, he said.