Chief Eric Umeofia, the Chief Executive Officer, Erisco Foods, has urged the Federal Government to support tomato paste manufacturers with affordable finance to spur non-oil export business.
Umeofia, who made the appeal during a news briefing on Wednesday in Lagos, said that access to finance at five per cent interest rate would aid local tomato paste manufacturers to export their products within 18 months.
According to him, the fund will be used for procurement of machinery, raw materials and expansion projects.
Umeofia commended government’s recent ban on importation of tomato paste, adding that the step would help reflate the economy, stimulate local production, aid export of tomato paste and create jobs.
“Government has taken a laudable step to ban importation of tomato paste to boost activities in the tomato sector value chain but access to affordable finance is crucial to the growth of the industry.
“Paying over 20 per cent as interest rate hinders business growth but with government’s support, Nigeria can be the largest exporter of tomato paste in the world in few years’ time.
“This is due to our advantage oftwo harvest season annually and tomatoes harvested in large quantities in the country.
“But since the inception of Erisco, we have only been able to produce at 20 per cent capacity but with increased support, we should be able to increase production to 80 per cent and export to earn foreign exchange for the country,” he said.
The industrialist urged government to ensure effective implementation of the policy, reduce smuggling and provide adequate supply of high yield seeds to farmers to aid success of the policy.
Umeofia urged government to replicate the policy on other food items to enhance industrial growth, job creation and empowerment of the citizens.
Umeofia, however, criticised the Manufacturers Association of Nigeria (MAN) for supporting foreign manufacturers and importers at the expense of indigenous manufacturers.
He opposed the association’s submission that tomato paste ban was ill timed due to the inability of local manufacturers to bridge the demand gap in the country.
The industrialist argued that local demand for tomato paste was 150, 000 metric tons, but Erisco plant had the capacity to produce over 450, 000 metric tons per annum.
Umeofia said that his production coupled with production from other tomato paste manufacturers were sufficient to meet local demands and export the excessfor foreign exchange earnings.
“Manufacturing is not trading. Itis a sacrifice to see the country develop in all areas, so we should give credit and support to indigenous manufacturers.
“A situation whereby importers of tomato paste are rising, while local manufacturers are declining is not acceptable,” Umeofia said.