Tomatonomics – Examining Nigeria’s La Tomatina Prospects

Is a La Tomatina Festival possible in Nigeria?

Whilst the town of Bunol in Spain can boast of hosting the La Tomatina food fight festival annually in August, where more than one hundred metric tons of over-ripe tomatoes are thrown in the streets, this festival would be unfathomable in present day Nigeria especially with, the prevailing recession and headline inflation (evidenced in the fluctuating price of a kilogram of tomato) which impacts significantly on household disposable income.
In previous years, La Tomatina has attracted up to 45,000 people, but there are now restrictions to the number of participants to enhance security with a gate fee charge of about €10. The entry fee – introduced in 2013 also helps to boost public funds for the recession assailed town.

Despite the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (FMARD) ranking tomatoes as the vegetable with the highest priority in Nigeria, the annual import bill on tomato is close to $100 million, as over 750,000 tonnes is lost yearly to wastages. Nigeria has a domestic demand of about 2.3 million metric tonnes of fresh products annually, with production of around 1.8 million metric tonnes yearly leading to the huge import bill to make-up for the shortfall in local production.

Despite this sobering numbers, there is still much to cheer about. With, tomato production of 1.8 million tonnes, Nigeria accounts for about 10.8% of Africa’s tomato production and 1.2% of total global tomato production (see Figure 3). Besides, Tomato remains the second most important vegetable crop next to potato globally.

Figure 1: Fresh Tomato Prices (per kg) across Nigeria

img

Source: Nigerian Bureau of Statistics

Nigeria’s path to a La Tomatina Festival

Tomatina is the celebration of the rich tomato harvests of Bunol, with which the city indulges revellers. Nigeria’s climate and soil also indicate that with the right structural support and expertise, a La Tomatina, celebrating the country’s rich tomato harvests should not be considered a pipe dream.

To achieve a La Tomatina in Nigeria, a lot of challenges would have to be addressed. First the seasonality effect which leads to sharp volatility in prices (see Figure 1) needs to be addressed. Tomatoes are generally more expensive in the rainy season and cheaper during dry seasons.

By simply improving storage capacity, Nigeria will be able to pare the tomato post-harvest losses already estimated at 30-50% of farmer’s produce. Additional investments in storage capacity will also help smoothen tomato supply and then reduce seasonality induced price volatilities. The use of low yield seeds is another major factor affecting tomato paste pro-

cessing in Nigeria. The most common tomato seed in Nigeria is the low yield, low puree UC82B seed variant used largely for irrigated tomato cultivation and then the Roma VF seeds for rain fed farming. However, tomato processing requires the high breed seeds like the F1 hybrids which produce more paste and puree when processed. High breed seeds also have longer shelf life as they can stay up to 10 days before getting spoilt.

Other factors include inadequate skilled local tomato processors in Nigeria. Many companies which have ventured into tomato processing have had to employ expatriates who have the required skill set. Salaries and expenses of these expatriates could cost processors up to $10,000 per month excluding the cost of providing benefits in kind, thereby increasing a processor’s operational costs and affecting competitiveness with the imported tomato paste brands.

Figure 1: Fresh Tomato Prices (per kg) across Nigeria

img

Source: Nigerian Bureau of Statistics

Framing out a path to Nigeria’s Tomato Wealth

We believe that strict implementation of the Federal Government’s new tomato policy could increase the volume of locally produced tomato fruits and also open up the value chain especially in processed tomato paste. However, structural bottlenecks may stymie these growth opportunities.

The policy aims to stop the importation of tomato paste, powder or concentrate put up for retail sale by increasing the tariff on tomato concentrate to 50% with an additional levy of $1,500 per metric tonne and also include tomato production and processing in the list of industries eligible for investment incentives administered by the Nigeria Investment Promotion Commission (NIPC). The school feeding program of the current administration could also turn out to be a big driver of growth for tomatoes in Nigeria. Other value chain opportunities include haulage services especially in rails from the tomato growing regions in the north to the markets in the south and also refrigerated vans for distribution of fresh tomatoes and tomato paste to hotels and quick service restaurants.

La Tomatina has evolved into a global tourist hit that has expanded beyond Bunol, its Spaniard home. La Tomatina is now being celebrated in other tomato rich regions across the world. In Costa Rica, there is the Tomatina in the town of San José de Trojas (Valverde Vega Canton) during the local Tomato Fair. Since 2004, the Colombian town of Sutamarchán holds a similar event on 15 June when a surplus of tomatoes is harvested. In the US there is the Colorado-Texas Tomato War where Texans and Coloradans square off.

Maybe one day, Kaduna and Kano in Nigeria may decide to square off in a La Tomatina duel to celebrate their hard earned tomato wealth. But first, Nigeria has to undertake the hard work of creating a sustainable framework that can help achieve long term success in tomato output.

Notes
Express: La Tomatina festival: Inside the world’s biggest food fight
Kano State Government: National Tomato Technical Working Group (2014)
FAO: Land & Water (Tomato database)