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Tomatoes Beyond Reach

Infestation of Tuta absoluta on tomato plants of the experimental farms

By Ese Ufuoma

Recently, households in Nigeria have had to dig deeper into their pockets to buy tomatoes, one of the most commonly consumed vegetables in the country, as prices have risen sharply due to shortage. The Kano State Chairman of Tomato Out Growers Association of Nigeria (TOGAN), Sani Danladi, in an interview with newsmen, revealed that Tuta absoluta, one of the most devastating pests affecting tomato crops, is the main cause of the soaring prices of tomatoes across Nigeria. With over 200 million populations, Nigeria is the largest nation in Africa, yet, around 84 million Nigerians, representing about 37 per cent of the total population live below the poverty line.

Tuta absoluta is a species of moth in the family of Gelechiidae, which is also known by the name tomato leaf miner or ‘Tomato Ebola’. Mr Danladi revealed that Tuta absoluta reappeared in Kano, Katsina, Kaduna, and Jigawa states in February. It is well known as a serious pest of tomato crops in Europe and South America. “Even at the farm a crate of 25kg cost N45,000 now from the farmer. Yes, that is why you see some farmers selling a bag for N60,000.

“The tomato Ebola is affecting Kano, Katsina Kaduna, and Jigawa,” he added. Secondly, he said there is the issue of high temperatures in terms of global warming. “You know tomatoes are not friendly with high temperatures. So it is normally good when it’s cold weather between January, February and March maximum but when it is above that, you cannot grow tomatoes generally in the North.” Mr Danladi urged the government to assist the farmers to help curb the disease while noting that “Tuta has come to stay.”

“Recently the federal government gave us some chemicals which we will be able to use to monitor our farms. We are calling on the federal government to assist our farmers again because this ebola has come to stay. We started experiencing this in 2015 up till now, and every year we experience it. It has come to stay. We can only manage it, learn how to adapt with it, how to have a bypass whereby we can be able to control it before it finishes all the farms,” he said.

He said, “As an association, we are sensitizing our farmers to be very vigilant when they see it from their neighbours, let them try to mobilise and inform other people more efficiently; the association then we will take it up and inform the relevant agencies to inform us on how to control it, that is the only way we are doing to see that we survive.”

Meanwhile, consumers have taken to social media to express worries and complain about the surging prices, comparing price rates in different regions of the country. Sisi Yemmie with X handle @SisiYemmie in a tweet said, “I don’t know how people are not panicking because of this food inflation because I’m low-key panicking.”

Another user Ayin Ibibio with X handle @asunwa said, “I’m panicking. I’ve been panicking. But what can I do? I cannot generate health problems from panicking because of inflation,” she lamented.

Tomato Ebola in Retrospect

In 2016, there was a scarcity of tomatoes in major markets in the country due to the outbreak of Tuta absoluta. The incident reportedly caused about 80 per cent loss of tomato production in the country, leading to an increase in the market price of the essential vegetable nationwide.

Although tomato appears to be a primary host of the pest, it has also been reported to attack eggplant and potato. Since it was detected in Eastern Spain in 2006, it has invaded other parts of the world. Its outbreak was first reported in Niger and Senegal before it attacked Nigeria’s tomatoes. In Nigeria, it was first detected in Daura, Katsina State, in April 2015; then in Kano State two months later and in Abeokuta, Ogun State, in September of the same year. It has since spread to all the other tomato-producing states in the country. In 2016, the Kaduna State government declared a state of emergency in the state’s tomato sector due to the pest’s attack on farms. According to the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (FMARD), six tomato-producing states, including Kano, Jigawa, Katsina, Gombe, Plateau, and FCT, were affected by the pest in 2017. In 2020, tomato ebola resurfaced in Kano and ravaged many farms.

The tomato ebola resurfaced in February 2024, initially sparing most major production areas. However, by April, the impact had spread, and the tomato supply had been depleted ever since. Currently, tomatoes are predominantly sourced from Pankshin in Plateau State and Ikara, Kaduna State, as these regions boast extensive plantations. This concentration has driven prices up significantly, with only riverine areas still managing to yield limited harvests.

Market Insight

A market survey conducted by Valuechain in the popular Wuse and Fish Markets showed that the price of tomatoes had skyrocketed over a few months. At the Wuse Market, Abuja, a tomato dealer, attributed the increase in prices to the planting season and the resurfacing of the pest in northern Nigeria. He said a basket of tomatoes, which sold for between N30,000 and N45,000 earlier in the year, now sells for between N100,000 and N120,000.

“A basket of big tomatoes is now N100,000 – N120,0000 while the small basket is now sold for N40,000 -N50,000. No more N500 tomatoes, it’s from N1,500 and above now. Farmers are complaining that something is eating up and destroying their tomato crop on the farm,” he said.

At the Fish Market in Life Camp, a basket of premium quality fresh tomatoes, which sold between N50,000 and N80,000 in April now costs between N140,000 and N150,000. Meanwhile, in April, the NBS Food Price Watch reported that the price of 1kg of tomatoes had risen year-on-year by 131.58% between April 2023 and April 2024. However, between March and April 2024, the average price of 1kg of tomatoes increased by 17.06%

Olusegun Obasanjo

Agric Minister’s Take

The Minister of Agriculture and Food Security, Abubakar Kyari, said the Federal Government is taking immediate action to combat this issue. Mr Kyari disclosed this in a statement posted via his X handle.

“A significant number of our tomato farms have been affected by a severe infestation known as Tomato Ebola or Tomato Leaf Miner. This has drastically reduced the availability of tomatoes and contributed to rising costs.

“Our ministry is taking immediate action to combat this issue. We are deploying agricultural experts to affected areas to contain and eliminate the infestation. Additionally, we are supporting our farmers with the necessary resources and guidance to recover their crops as quickly as possible, just as we instituted the Ginger Blight Control Taskforce.

“We understand the impact this has on your daily lives and are working tirelessly to resolve the situation and restore the supply of affordable tomatoes. Thank you for your patience and understanding during this challenging time,” he said.

Following the challenges faced by Nigerians, Nigeria’s former President and Head of State, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, has advocated innovation in the country’s agricultural sector, saying it is a veritable tool for human survival and sustainable food security in the country. Obasanjo, who said this while speaking at the AgriConnect Summit in Lagos, said when strategically harnessed, innovation and collaboration could tackle challenges confronting Nigerian agriculture in the short, medium, and long term. The former president, while speaking on the theme of the event, “Bridging the Divide: Cultivating Collaboration and Innovation for a Sustainable Agricultural Future,” said

“Innovation is very important. Land is important. But, without money, your land is useless. You cannot do agri-business without money and innovation.”

Obasanjo commended research institutes in Africa and across the world for playing the role of mentorship for young farmers on the continent. He recalled at the event attended by Minister of Communication, Innovation & Digital Economy, Dr Bosun Tijani, and agric experts how he convinced one of his sons to embrace farming despite having a PhD from the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom.

According to the organisers of the summit, the event was put together in collaboration with Obasanjo Farms Nigeria Limited, as an initiative aimed to foster a more unified approach to agricultural development. “At the AgriConnect Summit 2024, we are resolutely dedicated to dismantling barriers and fostering collaboration among diverse stakeholders. By convening leaders from technology, finance, government, developmental organizations, and agriculture, we aspire to co-create actionable strategies to surmount the obstacles faced by farmers and fortify food security in Nigeria,” said one of the organisers, Dr. Toyosi Obasanjo.

As the tomato ebola crisis persists, stakeholders are urgently seeking collaborative solutions to stabilize supply and prices, ensuring continued access to this essential vegetable across Nigeria.

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