Your most probable image of a farmer is likely a man in his late 50’s with a torn hat, a wrinkled face and a large booth that could pierce the skin of the fiercest reptiles.
While you may not be totally wrong, (since this description fits most farmers around the world) a Harvard-trained woman in Northern Nigeria is changing the narrative and here is how.
Mira Mehta founded Tomato Jos in 2014, though her ship had berthed in Nigeria 6 years earlier. From her first day in Nigeria, she has been involved with locals, experts and professionals in community health services for various organizations like the Clinton Foundation. Little wonder how she easily adapts to her locals-driven Tomato Jos, a for-profit organization creating a new middle class in Nigeria’s rural communities.
“But you already lived there once! Why do you want to go and live there again?” Said, her father in a piece published by Nairametrics.
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With the recent Groundbreaking Ceremony of Tomato Jos’ $5m processing facility, she may just be getting closer to the much-needed answers for people who didn’t understand her decision to return to Nigeria after her MBA in Harvard University.
Miss Mehta didn’t always start off as a business person or as a farmer. She was always that calm, calculated and charming Boston Girl who went to College to get around community health. Now she is in the Northern Nigeria State of Kaduna, planting Tomatoes, Cereals, Maize and improving the lives and livelihoods of rural farmers and their families.
But it was not always Kaduna.
Mira’s Tomato Jos started off in (not Jos) Nassarawa State, Nigeria. In fact, she got the name because one of her earliest acquaintances in Nigeria, Sim Shagaya formerly of Konga, lobbied her to site her dream tomato paste factory in his hometown of Jos, hence Tomato Jos (TJ for short).
However, Nassarawa proved to be the best option at that time, until it was not. Kaduna apparently does it for her, as she plans to site an 85 tonnes per day capacity factory there, on a 500 hectares land in 2021.
Her drive to fulfill the organization’s mission has pushed her to find balance in the flatlands of Kaduna where she is either holed up in her office doing some paperwork or in the fields, with a booth and a hat protecting her from the scourging Northern Sun and the arid reptiles of the clime.
As her knowledge of Hausa Language improves, she finds solace in her ability to mutter basic Nigerian pidgin phrases which she has learned working and traveling cities across Nigeria like Onitsha, Lagos, Kano, Abuja Jos, Kaduna, Lokoja, etc.
When she’s up in her phones engaging Twitter fans about her Tomato business, you would think the business is naturally a smooth ride without bumps. Is it?
Mira has had to move farms from time to time and according to a Tweetchat with Nairametrics, TJ’s biggest issue yet is the non-availability of raw materials. Her business appears to be modeled in three levels; farming tomatoes, processing tomatoes and selling a branded product. Presently, she is on the first level with the second level kicking off shortly with the $5m facility on course.
She thinks that the lack of raw materials is the biggest problem of other tomato paste manufacturers in Nigeria and has put every resource towards getting it right.
Evidently, Mira is as human as can be. As her resilience and business acumen is being admired across the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) and Kaduna State Government, she also makes her marks in the streets of Igabi and that of Naija Twitter.
Some of her tweets and replies suggest a playful and jovial person, for instance, after series of tweets announcing her locations and destinations on Twitter, she seemed to have caught on to the Village people frenzy with a reply to a follower;
“I have learned my lesson. No more updates about where I am or whether I made it to the place I’m trying to get to. The last thing I need is my village people messing me up,” she tweeted.
On another tweet, she exclaims, “The journey from Awolowo Road to VI looks simple on the map but mehnnn you guys and your traffic sha- e no easy! Uber driver’s fan belt broke (pele) and the new Uber driver is like 20 mins away though he’s just down the block.”
Two prominent aspect of modern Nigeria stands out here, village people and Lagos traffic.
From Igabi, Kaduna to the world, TJ keeps growing from strength to strength on the shoulders of its eclectic founder and CEO, Mira Mehta who by the way, conceived TJ as a class project back in Harvard Business School.
Indeed, Mira is a true Tomato Queen, whose very existence shouts from the mountaintop, “agriculture is for all– the youth, the beautiful, the smart, the rich, the poor, the cheerful, the Nigerian, the American and more.”