Early this year, a tomato infestation disease entered Nigeria through the Niger Republic. It destroyed about 80% of the tomato farms in that area. An exotic pest known as the “tuta absoluta” was identified as the culprit of this devastation. The insect is moth-like in appearance and originated in South America. This insect and its larvae has also become a serious threat throughout the Mediterranean regions. The moth attacks the tomato plant leaves by laying lots of larvae which voraciously feeds on the plants.
Nigerians called this pest the “tomato ebola” or aka the “Tomato Leaf Miner.” Tomatoes are Nigeria’s new oil rich economy substitute. Audu Ogbeh, the federal agricultural minister reported that this pest has spread to six states (Jigawa, Kano, Katsina, Kaduna, Plateau and Lagos). The exotic insects posed a threat to their national food security because the insect also eats potato and pepper plants. This decimation quickly brought together commissioners and governors of each Nigerian state to deal with this crisis. Local tomato plant farmers have been losing more than $5m in just one month.
Combating the “tuta absoluta” is vitally important to Nigeria because tomatoes are a main ingredient in most of Nigeria’s dishes and is one of the nation’s staple food source. Because this new plant eating pest is so unique to the nation, finding solutions has been proving to be a daunting task. Tomato farms and factories in the northwest and central regions were heavily devastated. This caused their governors to declare an immediate state of emergency. Spraying insecticides did not last nor did it work to kill the moth. Only after about three hours, the moth came back to life, laying more larvae.
Large tomato factories had no choice but to begin suspending various tomato product (i.e., paste and puree) productions in their processing plants. This caused the loss of thousands of jobs. Wholesale baskets of tomatoes could be purchased in Nigeria but at a high cost of 42,000 naira up from 1,500 naira before the outbreak. There are some varieties of tomato that are grown insect free in the western part of the country that were being used and sold as alternatives.
There were signs of a tomato blight in Kenya in 2015, but on a much smaller scale. Kenya created an extract from a plant that seemed to kill the insects. However, nothing else was done about this pest, nor was this information shared extensively. Nigeria’s state government has been aggressively conducting studies with agricultural experts and researchers on finding a lasting solution. The nation’s government began sending their experts abroad to find out how to eradicate the moths.
The Boko Haram insurgency stopped agricultural production in the nation’s northeast regions. There was also an ongoing clash between farmers and herdsmen in the “Middle Belt” region which is another big farming centre. Nigeria also looked into ways to assist tomato farmers and production factories. Nigeria also approved a national budget for reducing wastage that made farmers spend a lot of money without any returns on their investment.
Recently, on May 27, 2016 Dr. Ogbonnaya Onu, Nigeria’s Minister of Science and Technology reported that a new pesticide to fight the “tuta absoluta” has been approved. This new pesticide was developed by the National Research Institute for Chemical Technology. The Minister did not announce the pesticide’s name, but stated that it will be distributed to farmers very soon. Dr. Onu only stated that this pesticide will save Nigeria billions of naira. Also, the Minister reports that with its mass production by industrialists and support from other unidentified sources, will help to make Nigeria contribute again to its food security throughout Africa and the world.