Nigerian tomato farmers are overcoming production challenges to increase the quality and quantity of their yields, and access a ready market for their produce.
Thanks to agricultural advice, access to high-quality seeds and fertiliser, along with training in good agricultural practices, Nigerian tomato farmers are increasing their yields and cutting down their post-harvest losses. During the harvest season, tomatoes flooding onto the market causes a glut, and farmers experience significant losses with most of their yield going unsold and left to rot. However, Tomato Jos, a for-profit social enterprise and agricultural production company, is training smallholder farmers in best practices to produce quality tomatoes to use in their tomato paste.
Despite producing 65% of tomatoes grown in West Africa, Nigeria remains the largest global importer of tomato paste. Few tomato paste factories exist in the country due to various challenges, such as low-quality tomato production. And, with most producers unable to identify a consistent bulk buyer, up to 1.35 million t of fresh tomatoes are wasted each year.
To address these problems, Tomato Jos, which was set up in 2014 by Mira Metha and her partner, Shane Kiernan, is buying tomatoes for processing at harvest time. The company has so far worked with around 100 farmers in Nigeria’s Middle Belt to teach best agricultural practices, such as preparing the soil prior to seeding and installing drip irrigation. By selling to Tomato Jos, the trained farmers consistently earn around five times more than they could achieve at local markets, even when prices crash during the peak season.
Initially set-up in Panda, Nasarawa State, the company has since moved to a 500 ha farm in Kaduna, north-east Nigeria. By overcoming challenges on its own farm, such as virus outbreaks, harsh weather conditions and water shortages, Tomato Jos is able to identify with issues experienced by local farmers and offer practical solutions. And, as a result of adapting production to mitigate these challenges, the company is able to produce 40-50 t per ha of tomatoes; 10 times the national average. “Maybe they’re [the farmers] making 7 t per hectare now; we think they can get to 30 t per ha if they follow our system,” says Metha.
Tomato Jos has over 20 full-time employees who are enthusiastic about its model of making farming productive for smallholders in Nigeria. Youths from the communities are also employed to work in the tomato fields helping to apply water and fertiliser. In April 2019, Metha announced that tomato paste production had begun and official operation of the brand will start in 2020. For now, they are selling the paste at the local market in 25 kg buckets and 250 kg drums, with the buckets selling for ₦ 7,500 (€18.50). “Drums will be sold to institutional buyers while buckets are for smaller consumers,” Metha explains.
The company plans to expand its farmer network in order to supply 10% of Nigeria’s demand for tomato paste, which is estimated at 200,000 t annually, according to the Federal Ministry of Agricultural and Rural Development.