31-year-old Mira Mehta, a young American lady and Harvard graduate who is a tomato farmer in Nigeria, owns several Acres of Tomato farm and has successfully floated a tomato processing company with the brand “Tomato Jos.”
When Mira Mehta moved to Nigeria in 2008 for the Clinton Health Access Initiative, she started spotting tomatoes rotting out in the fields. Rural farmers were struggling, their crops spoiling before reaching consumers.
But Nigerians love tomatoes so much so the country has become the world’s largest importer of tomato paste, spending nearly $500 million annually on the thick red sauce. With fields full of tomatoes, though, why spend money importing tomato paste when it could be made locally?
It’s a question Mehta, a recent Harvard Business School graduate, and Shane Kiernan, an alumnus of the Harvard School of Public Health, set out to answer with the launch of ‘Tomato Jos’, a social enterprise helping turn Nigerian farmers into expert growers.
The US entrepreneur, who previously worked on health projects in Nigeria for the Clinton Foundation, said she had begun thinking about possible farming projects after driving past what had looked like crimson carpets as farmers dried their unsold crop on the hot tarmac.
“The image of the pools of red lining the side of the road stuck with me and started making me think of agriculture in Nigeria and where the gaps were and it just seemed like a big waste,” Ms Mehta said, speaking from her base in a converted chicken coop on her farm.
Using $300,000 she raised in seed capital from six angel investors and a Kickstarter campaign, Ms Mehta plans to test her theory that a profitable agribusiness that also benefits local farmers and consumers can work in Nigeria.
The Bostonian leased three hectares in Nasarawa state from the only white Zimbabwean farmer still working there of a group of 20 who were given land by the state government a decade ago.
“Tomato Jos” means “cute girl” in Nigerian slang, “because the tomatoes from Jos are especially sweet and juicy.” And the goal is to keep it that way.