• Friday, June 21, 2024
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BusinessDay

Erisco spends N3m daily on trucks, invests N4bn on value chain

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Major tomato processor Erisco Foods Limited spends a minimum of N3 million daily on trucks ferrying fresh tomatoes from the northern part of Nigeria to Lagos factory.

The leading tomato paste maker is putting N4 billion back to farmers to ensure they grow hybrid and heat-resistant seeds that can withstand diseases and make Africa’s biggest economy self-sufficient, the company told Real Sector Watch in Lagos.

Eric Umeofia, chairman, Erisco Foods, said in an exclusive interview that the ‘Tomato King’ (as the firm is commonly called) spends N300, 000 on each truck ferrying fresh tomatoes from the north, where Erisco serves as a major off-taker, adding that the firm receives a minimum of ten trucks daily.

According to Umeofia, the firm has now diversified to 22 production lines, including to other foods and beverages such as cocoa health drink, milk tea, apple drink and strawberry, packaged garri (processed cassava), among others.

“We have a technical plan in Katsina State to do what no one has ever done in the tomato processing industry. But it all boils down to government consistent support to the industry,” said Umeofia.

“For instance, we need 50 trucks to meet our demands. We also need 125 buses to do marketing. But we need support from the government to be able to achieve these. We can make Nigeria self-sufficient in tomato,” he stated.

On Tula Absoluta commonly called ‘Tomato Ebola’, which is currently ravaging crops in many parts of the country, Erisco boss said the country refused to do the right thing at the appropriate time, saying that his firm supported  farmers to take precautionary measures against the disease early enough.

“This disease is not new. It happened three years ago. It recurred because we did not do what we ought to. As a company, what we did was to plant hybrid and heat-resistant seeds. Our farms were not majorly affected because we took measures. However, there was some form of impact it had on our supply,” he added.

Nigeria produces 1.8 million metric tonnes (MT) of tomatoes. Total demand in the country is 2.3 million MT, implying the country imports 500,000 MT to bridge the gap. Africa’s biggest economy spends N16 billion importing this crop annually.

“People often say we cannot be self-sufficient in tomato production, but that is a big lie. Nigerian tomatoes are more nutritious because we have good arable land, which is not chemicalised. When we were importing, we were richer. But now that we are manufacturing we are poorer. This is why I am insisting that government should stop listening to the advice of Indians or those why say the country cannot be self-sufficient in tomato,” he further said.

Erisco has an installed production capacity of 450,000 metric tonnes per annum at its Lagos factory and remains the biggest in Africa and fourth largest in the world. It has robust plans for backward integration that has been ongoing over the past three years, promising to stop the annual wastages of over 75 percent of fresh tomatoes across Nigeria.

According to Erisco founder, most goods that are in retail shops are not locally made, urging the shops to show some patriotism as Nigerian products most times have better quality than imported ones.

ODINAKA ANUDU