Chief Eric Odinaka Umeofia, President/CEO, Erisco Foods Ltd, is driving the goal of attaining self sufficiency in tomato paste in Nigeria. This is in line with government’s objective of cutting down the pressure of food importation on foreign exchange resources. The President, in his 2017 budget speech, expressed the hope that self-sufficiency in tomato paste would to be achieved this year. Umeofia is no doubt at the centre of realising this hope for Nigeria.
Umeofia is a man who has long been advocating ‘buy made in Nigeria goods’ as if he saw Nigeria’s tomorrow that is now today. His course to achieve self sufficiency in tomato paste production has brought him in conflict with powerful forces in government, regulatory agencies and importers of the product.
Apparently, government is beginning to learn and sing Umeofia’s chorus of self reliance that the nation has unheeded for long. The President, in his 2017 budget declared that “…a new era is rising in which we grow what we eat and consume what we make. By this simple principle, we will increasingly grow and process our own food, we will manufacture what we can and refine our own petroleum products. We will buy ‘Made in Nigeria’ goods”, he assured.
The President’s stance meets Umeofia well, for beaming a ray of hope for local industries through his policies. Early last year, Umeofia commissioned a new 450,000 metric tonnes per annum tomato paste processing plant built at a cost of N4 billion. The large processing capacity was designed to contribute to local processing of fresh tomatoes, providing local capacity for other companies to source fresh tomatoes locally, process in the company’s facilities and package the products in their own brand names. Umeofia’s objective is to ensure that Nigeria benefits fully from the entire value-chain in tomato cultivation, storage, processing and packaging.
Mrs. Aisha Buhari, the wife of the President, who commissioned the ultra modern plant in Lagos, saw it as a practical demonstration of the change that needs to happen in Nigeria. Nigeria has imported enough, she said, and now the culture of importing things that can be produced locally has to change. Umeofia seems to be moving well ahead of the change that government is now beginning to preach.
The new plant, described as the first of its kind in Africa, is now positioned to soak off the glut in tomato output from farmers that result in a loss of up to 75% of products harvested annually. It now stands as a challenge of common sense and reason to Nigeria’s tomato paste imports estimated at $1 billion annually.
The new plant makes tomato paste importation unnecessary and effectively represents the end of wastage of local tomato output in Nigeria. The production capacities of Umeofia and Dantata are said to be adequate to meet local demand for tomato paste and leave a margin for export. Erisco Foods takes up to 10 trucks of fresh tomatoes for processing daily. This represents a major contribution to the backward integration effort in the agricultural sector.
The company’s Riko Giko tomato paste with pepper variant, is made from all-natural, vine-ripened tomatoes and simmered with salt and natural spices. It is double concentrated and extra thick, using only concentrated, strained tomatoes – qualities that are incomparable to imported products. Umeofia has the vision of developing the tomato industry from modernized plantations to refining and conversion of fresh tomatoes into concentrate. His aim is to make Nigeria one of the hubs of tomato paste manufacturing in the world.
His company is presently developing massive tomato plantations in Sokoto, Jigawa, Katsina and Zamfara States. Nigeria’s soil is the third best in the world for producing tomatoes, according to research findings. Nigerian grown tomatoes are rated the best in the world. Umeofia has picked up this product to give it the best treatment possible in the world today.
The reading of Nigeria’s economic credentials has remained unchanged for several decades – a nation abundantly rich in human and material resources. The country needs to progress urgently to a new status as a harnesser of gifted resources. Umeofia is among the new crop of entrepreneurs moving in this direction.
He has ably combined the nation’s resource of the best soil for the best tomato in the world with the latest technology available anywhere in the world. That sets him on a mission of tomato revolution not only in Nigeria but in the world.
Umeofia’s dream of seeing Nigeria take its rightful place in the comity of nations is finally coming true. He has resolved in himself to be one of the five people that will do for Nigeria what five people did for America – to make it great!
For his commitment to the advocacy of patronage of made in Nigeria products as demonstrated by his tomato revolution, Umeofia is named one of the 10 CEOs of the year, 2016 by Top 10 Magazine.