To sustain the factory’s efficient operation, President Nkrumah, with his characteristic visionary leadership style, established the Vea Irrigation and the Tono Irrigation facilities in the Region to produce raw materials to feed the factory. The factory never complained of inadequate raw materials until in recent times. The question, then, is ‘What were the circumstances that led to the closure of the factory?’.
What beats the imagination of many is why such a national asset should be left to collapse, particularly given the fact that the present government has at the top of its agenda the transformation of the Ghanaian economy into an export-led one.
It also very ironical to note that the country as it stands now is the second largest in the world when it comes to the importation of tomato paste. Statistics available indicate that Ghana spends 100 million dollars annually in tomato paste importation when the country has a factory like the Northern Star Tomato lying idle which could have saved her some precious foreign exchange.
Information obtained from the Ministry of Trade indicates that for the year 2000, Ghana imported about 10 million kilograms of tomato paste at about $8.9 million. This rose to about 12 million kilograms at $9.6 million in 2001. The year 2002 saw the importation of 16.4 million kilograms at a total cost of $12.7 million. The European Union is reported to have exported 27,000 tonnes of preserved tomatoes to Ghana in 2003. The trend suggests that each year, Ghana’s import volume of tomato paste jumps by about 23%. This is not surprising, considering that tomato is used in almost every meal in the country.
It is very significant to note that as tomato imports continue to rise in volumes, about 1250 Ghanaian tomato farmers stand the risk of being pushed out of employment. These farmers are mainly from Navrongo and Bolgatanga in the Upper East Region, Bontanga, Gulinga and Libga in the Northern Region, Tuobodom in the Brong Ahafo Region and Asante Akim in the Ashanti Region.
When it was full in operation the Pwalugu factory was the source of income of thousands of tomato farmers in the Region and beyond. Many of these farmers who were from communities in the Region including the factory workers, have now been thrown out of the job as a result of the folding up of the factory.
Narrating their plight to the GNA at Pwalugu, some of the workers of the defunct and tomato farmers said it is now difficult for them to cater for their families. Mr Atanga Gilbert one of the farmers declared, “The closure of the factory has affected us a lot. When the factory was in operation we could take good care of our families and pay for our children’s school fees up to the tertiary level but now we cannot do so anymore”.
Whiles government and other stakeholders are grappling with employment creation, they seem not to realise that tomato farming, processing and distribution could become the biggest employment avenue for many people, especially rural dwellers. There is no doubt that if the Northern Star tomato factory is revamped it would help stamp out the tide of unemployment and rural urban migration in the Region.
Poverty is already rife among food crop farmers. The Ghana Living Standard Survey, Round 4 (GLSS4), noted that about 40% of Ghanaians live the below the poverty line of less than two dollars a day and that 70% of this number are food crop farmers. The GLSS4 document also observes that the Upper East Region, where majority of these tomato farmers operate, has the highest incidence of poverty, followed closely by the Upper West, Northern and Central Regions.
According to the national president of the Peasant Farmers Association of Ghana (PFAG), Mr. Mohammed Nasiru Adams, over 700 tomato farmers have already been rendered unemployed as a result of the importation of tomato paste. Mr. Adams points fingers at the country’s trade policies, which have over the years opened the floodgates for foreign goods, as the main cause of poverty. He notes that if the trend is not halted many Ghanaian families, particularly those of tomato farmers, will continue be impoverished.
Mr Adams questions why the country continues to spend such huge sums of hard earned foreign exchange on importing tomato when Ghanaian farmers, given the requisite support can produce enough tomato to feed the nation and for exports
It would be recalled that in 2006, under the reign of President John Agyekum Kufuor, the factory was revamped but could not operate to full capacity. Also in 2009, the current government, through the Ministry of Trade and Industry, assisted the authorities with funds to retool the factory, pay the salaries of its skeletal staff, as well as purchase tomatoes from farmers. But since then, the factory has become to a standstill.
Whilst some observers attributed the collapse of the factory to bad management and lack of raw materials (fresh tomatoes from farmers in the region to feed the factory), another school of thought has blamed the problem on the Region’s poor soil quality.
Mr John Akaribo , the Focal Person of the Peasant Farmers Association in charge of Upper East, stated that until recent years the factory was producing and never complained of lack of raw materials to feed the factory. He blamed the problem largely on poor soil fertility, and the collapse of the Vea and Tono irrigation facilities, particularly the broken down canals among others.
Towards a revamp: Some Suggestions
Public private partnership (PPP) is the key to revamping the Northern Star Tomato Factory. Government should facilitate the process by advertising the defunct factory for PPP at both the national and international level.
During a recent visit to the factory, the Minister of Trade and Industry, Dr. Ekow Spio-Garbrah reiterated government’s commitment to revamping the Pwalugu tomato factory and the Zuarungu meat factory. He said government intends to do that through a public private partnership (PPP) with preferred Ghanaian investors to boost the economic prospects of the factory and create jobs for the people.
Dr. Spio Garbrah was optimistic that the factories if operated under PPP would ensure proper financial management.
“…We are looking for private investors preferably Ghanaian investors but if Ghanaians are not ready to invest their money then we will look for foreign investors to inject capital…Transaction advisers have been identified to help us take the process of valuation, identification of potential investors, negotiation, decision about selling and of course get approval from the president and cabinet before the transactions are concluded,” the Minister stated.
Beyond that, there is also the urgent need for soil and plant scientists to work together to see how they could help improve upon the soil fertility in the area, as well as identify the appropriate tomato seeds for planting.
The rehabilitation of the Vea and Tono irrigation facilities, provision of functional processing plants, storage facilities, marketing and probably the diversification of the operations of the factory to include the processing of other vegetables such as pepper and ‘dawadawa’, are also key to boosting the local economy.
The Northern Start Tomato Factory, like its cousin the Zuarungu Meat Factory, which has also become a white elephant, when revamped, would not only help employ the several hundreds of unemployed people in the Region and stem the tide of migration to the south in search of non-existent jobs, but would also help to reduce the amount of foreign exchange that the nation spends each year on importing items that could be produced here in Ghana. At least it would help save the country the US$100 million she spends annually on the importation of tomato paste.
The revamping of the defunct factory would also help the Government to achieve one of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) that places emphasis on giving priority to agricultural sector as a means of reducing poverty.
The inhabitants of the Region are mainly farmers, so a complete revival and diversification of operations at the factory would enable them to earn enough money to take care of their families and meet other important commitments. The vision of Osagyefo Dr Nkrumah for the Region, and the nation for that matter, must not be left to die.