Banatom Banana and Tomato Processing Factory, which is located at Alebu, Haykota sub-zone, started its operation in 2008 and it mainly relies for its input on tomato farms at Gerset, Fesko, Adi-Omar and to some extent Molober, Afhimbol, and Kerkebet. It has a capacity of processing and packing 5,000 quintals of tomatoes a day. A processing machine that was introduced two years ago to satisfy local demands has been packing tomato pastes that weigh 250, 450, 650, and 850 grams that meet local demand.
Although the factory has sufficient production capacity to meet local demands and export to neighboring countries, it is not able to find the required amount of tomatoes and bananas. Boarding schools and colleges have been among the most important customers of the factory's tomato pastes, and the long term plan is to grow more tomatoes in the farms run by Eritrea's Crops and Livestock Corporation (ECLC) and to encourage individual farmers to increase tomato production to meet the factory's demand.
The strategic location of Alebu in the Gash-Barka region gives Banatom factory easy access to tomato supply from all parts of the region. The factory has opened a venue for the expansion of agro-industries in the region and individual farmers have been encouraged to use an advanced irrigation system that helps them increase their productivity.
ECLC has been active in providing seedlings, pesticides, and technical assistance to individual farmers to ensure an increase in the supply of tomatoes to meet the demand of the factory. Individual farmers in the region will no longer travel to distant marketplaces to sell their products as there is a high demand for their products at the factory.
The construction of dams in the Gash-Barka region has served as an impetus for the expansion of farm activities in the region and Banatom is the result of the expanded farm activities. Located at the center of the Gash-Barka region, Alebu has a promising future to be an industrial hub. A lot of college graduates have been assigned to work at the factory and other projects run by ECLC as part of the ongoing efforts made to ensure food security.
In line with the expansion of farm activities in the Gash-Barka region, a cold store that can preserve 2,000 tones has been set up around Banatom Factory to ensure that the factory has a sufficient supply of fruits and vegetables throughout the year.
The factory has been run by young college graduates who have been working hard to ensure the sustainability of the factory. Mr. Habtom Teklezghi, who studied Industrial Engineering at Eritrea Institute of Technology, was assigned to work at Banatom Factory in 2019 and after attending a vocational training for six months along with his colleagues later in 2010, he is now working as head of the operational works in the factory.
The tomato pastes meet high standards and are competitive in international markets, according to Mr. Tekie Weldu, manager of the factory. Mr. Habtom also said the factory processes and packs quality tomato pastes that are accredited in international markets. He added that the tomato processed in the factory has been tested and found to be of high quality by expatriate trainers.
The weather of Gash-Barka region is conducive for the cultivation of tomatoes only from December up to April, which limits the production of tomato pastes at Banatom factory. But Mr. Habtom is optimistic that farmers in the highlands will grow more tomatoes and play their role in helping the factory operate at full capacity in all seasons.
The opening of Banatom Factory, which has created jobs for men and women in Hykota sub-zone, has also triggered a transformation in various sectors in the region, including electricity supply, the opening of general metal workshops, and workshops for the maintenance of farm machinery and precast factories in Alebu.