Northern Star Tomato Factory: The vision must flourish

I recently engaged some tomato farmers in the Pwalugu area in a conversation during which they raised some concerns about the operations of the Northern Star Tomato Factory, formerly known as the Pwalugu Tomato Factory.

This facility was established during the reign of Ghana’s first President, Dr Kwame Nkrumah, with the intention of processing tomato into puree and paste for the local market and for export.

Like many other state enterprises, the factory went through problems, leading to its collapse at a point in time.

In 2006, under the reign of President John A. Kufuor, the factory was revamped.

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.

Since then, the factory has been struggling to operate.

Due to the seasonal nature of tomato farming in the region, the factory does not operate all year round.

When the produce is out of season, operations at the plant cease.

This has been the cycle till date, leaving one to think why managers cannot diverse operations of the factory to include the processing of other vegetables such as pepper and ‘dawadawa’.

In my encounter with the farmers, who are obviously stakeholders of the factory, they said for nearly two years, barrels of processed tomato paste had been left at the factory due to the unavailability of market.

The produce has been crushed into puree and kept in barrels.

The factory at the moment lacks the capacity to process the puree into paste for sale to the public.

The farmers said the puree produced in 20 I 0 and 2011 was still stored in barrels at the factory premises.

They claimed officials occasionally sprinkled salt on it to preserve it.

In the wake of the recent heavy rains and flooding of the factory, a team of journalists joined the MP for Talensi (the factory is located in his constituency) to inspect the extent of damage done the facility as a result of flooding.

During our rounds, I came across many barrels of tomato puree packed at the factory floor and in a room, confirming the claims of the farmers.

Asked what measures had been put in place to ensure the smooth running of the plant, Mr Adu responded that the factory lacked vacuum pumps to facilitate the process of canning the tomato puree, even though a new machine for the canning had been procured.

He, therefore, appealed to the MP to liaise with the Ministry of Trade and Industry to place an international advert to help secure the vacuum pumps since local suppliers failed to respond to a similar advert placed in the local media.

The factory is a backbone for thousands of tomato farmers in the region. There is, therefore, the need to take a good look at its operations in order to address the challenges facing it.

The Pwalugu Tomato Factory, like its cousin, Zuarungu Meat Factory, which has also become a white elephant, can be put to optimal operation to not only ensure ready market for the produce but also employ and keep the people, especially the hundreds of youth who migrate to the south in search of non-existent jobs.

The government must, perhaps, consider diversifying the operations at the tomato factory by including vegetables such as pepper, processing of ‘dawadawa’ into nice packages not only for the local market but also for export.

The dream behind the setting up of these factories in the region must not die.

The people of the region are mainly farmers. Therefore a complete revival and diversification of operations at the factory to enable it do an all-year round production and processing will provide the farmers with adequate money to take care of their families and meet their many other needs.

Source: Daily Graphic

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