Abuja — The Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Mr. Godwin Emefiele, yesterday said the multi-faceted commodity approach adopted by the bank in its landmark intervention programmes in agriculture, particularly tomato farming had yielded positive outcomes for the growth of the economy.
This is coming as Governor of Kaduna State, Mallam Nasir El-rufai, has also commended the CBN for the various efforts it has so far undertaken to resuscitate key sectors of the economy.
He said the commodity champion model introduced in the first quarter of 2019, to stimulate production of tomato and strengthen the end-to-end linkages in the value chain from input supplies to the final consumer, had begun to yield results with the mobilisation and validation of about 140,848 farmers from various tomato farmers associations across 25 states of the federation.
Speaking at the official ground breaking ceremony of Tomato Jos Farming and Processing Limited in Kaduna State, which is owned by a US investor, the CBN governor noted that the strategy adopted by the apex bank was largely hinged on the twin approaches of out-grower contractual arrangement in the short to medium term, and backward integration in the medium to long term.
Nonetheless, the CBN governor, particularly lauded the interest and confidence which the company's Managing Director, Mira Mehta had the country, adding that the investment was a testimony of the present administration's ongoing efforts towards economic transformation as well as ensuring that Nigeria is able to achieve food security.
He said the US government could also be seen as playing a role in Buhari's quest to ensure that Nigerians produce what they eat.
Describing the company as a symbolic project, he praised the ambassador for helping to promote foreign investment in the country by identifying with the company.
He charged Nigerian youths to be motivated by the courage shown by the young US investor by taking advantage of the government's incentives to grow agriculture, adding that all they needed was to indicate interest for government to support them.
Noting that tomato represented an important commodity, being one of the main ingredients in hundreds of Nigerian and international dishes as well as in the beverage and pharmaceutical industries, he said its annual production in the country was estimated at about 1.701 million tonnes while annual consumption stood at 2.93 million tonnes.
But he said this leaves an annual supply shortfall of over 1.2 million tonnes valued at about $2.5 billion annually, which is met through importation and smuggling.
Emefiele expressed satisfaction that the flag-off of the company nevertheless marked a key milestone in CBN's intervention in the agricultural sector.
He said the Tomato Jos plant, "is one of the key projects we are supporting in the tomato value chain and the reality of today's event is an attestation to the objectives of the administration of Mallam Nasiru El-Rufai, the people oriented Governor of Kaduna State, whose dedication to the industrialisation of the state led to the creation of an environment that enabled Tomato Jos to be a reality."
The CBN boss further expressed his profound appreciation to President Muhammadu Buhari for his continued support of the apex bank's efforts towards diversifying the economy and job creation through focused intervention in critical areas.
He added that the CBN's intervention in local tomato production and processing had become more critical given that tomato is among the commodities that play an important role in the demand for foreign exchange in the economy, adding that this had necessitated a holistic approach in tackling related challenges bedeviling the value chain.
However, he noted that intervention in tomato will be financed under the Anchor Borrowers' Programme (ABP) where farmers would be linked to proximal processors where applicable, or financed to produce fresh fruits for direct consumption, which constitutes the largest use of tomato in the country.
"The CBN, as far back as June 2015, before the current tomato policy was approved in 2017, had excluded importers of 41 items from accessing foreign exchange at the Nigerian foreign exchange markets, to encourage local production. One of the items declared "Not Valid for FOREX" was tomatoes/tomato paste in which the import bill, at the time, was significantly contributing to the pressure on the forex reserves."
He added that the apex bank was partnering with other big players in the tomato value chain including Dangote Tomato Processing Limited, Sonia Foods, GB Foods (GBF), Vegefresh Company Limited and a host of others towards ensuring that the country becomes self-sufficient in tomato, as well as ensure that processing companies function at full capacity to be able to employ millions of Nigerian youths.
The federal government has last year indicated its intention to ban the importation of tomato products into the country by 2021 to stem massive job losses to foreign countries as well as better the lives of impoverished local farmers.
The ceremony was attended by US Ambassador to Nigeria, Ms. Mary Beth Leonard who said the US was pleased to be fostering the economic development of Nigeria through the activities of US investors.
She said the investment has already increased the bilateral trade relation between both countries, stressing that the current partnership in the area of agriculture will create job opportunities for Nigerians.
In his speech, El-rufai, also commended the CBN for the various efforts it has so far undertaken to resuscitate key sectors of the economy.
He stressed that without such efforts, the ongoing revitalisation of the manufacturing and agricultural sectors would not have been possible.
He said Emefiele's management of the central bank was unprecedented, adding that steps taken towards economic rejuvenation further portrayed him as "more than a central bank governor"- and commended his contributions in developing agriculture and other key sectors.