ON Monday, May 23, the Kaduna State governor, Nasir el-Rufai, declared a state of emergency on tomatoes farming in his state, saying that 80 per cent of tomatoes farms had been ravaged by a moth called Tuta absoluta.
According to him, about 200 farmers in only three local government areas in the state lost N1 billion in the last one month. Tuta absoluta, in local parlance, is called tomato ebola.
The tomato disaster in the North is being felt all over the country. In Sasa market in Ibadan, Oyo State, for example, tomato marketers lamented the effect of the pest on the market. According to them, a basket of tomatoes, which cost N8,000 to N12,000, now cost between N23,000 to N35,000, depending on the variety of the fruits.
A trader, who usually brings the fruits from Kaduna State, said he stopped travelling to the North to source for the commodity because of its unavailability.
Many traders said they were having a harder time sourcing for the fruits.
A trader, who gave her name as Titi, said she previously bought and sold three baskets of the commodity per day but now, she could hardly get a basket for N30,000.
Three pieces of tomatoes cost N200 in some markets.
Tuta Absoluta, a South American originated pest known as tomato leaf miner, is an invasive moth that gained the pest status and it can spread rapidly, causing devastating effect on tomatoes and other solanaceous crops such as pepper, eggplant, white and red potato and tomatillo, according to Dr Olajumoke Alabi, an Entomologist at the Department of Crop Protection and Environmental Biology at the Faculty of Agriculture and Forestry, University of Ibadan (UI).
The pest has the capacity to reproduce 10 to12 times of 250 to 300 young ones within 28 days in a favourable environment.
“The multi-voltine nature of the pest (has the capacity to reproduce 10 to 12 times a year in tranches of 250 to 300 young ones within 28 days) coupled with favourable environment (high temperature, wind speed, etc) and lack of management knowledge for containment resulted in its spread like wild fire without any challenge,” Ogbeh said in a press conference on Tuesday in Abuja.
According to Tuta absoluta information network, which tracks the pest after its first detection in Europe, it rapidly invaded more than 30 Western Palaearctic countries, becoming a serious agricultural threat to tomato production in both protected and open-field crops.
“Until today, the presence of Tuta absoluta has been reported in Italy, France, Malta, United Kingdom, Greece, Switzerland, Portugal, Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya and Albania in the space of two years,” the network said.
Reports have it that the pest was detected in Sudan in 2010 and the invasion has subsequently crossed the Sahara desert, finding its way to Kenya in 2014.
The Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development said on Tuesday that the pest had earlier been detected in Nigeria in July 2015. Between that time and May 2016, the pest has affected six states, including Katsina, Kano, Kaduna, Jigawa and Lagos, the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Ogbeh, said at the press conference.
The minister said “it entered Nigeria through Niger (as predicted at meeting held in Ethiopia, 2013) into Katsina, Kano, Kaduna, Nasarawa and spread to other tomato producing states in the North, as well as southern states of Lagos, Oyo and Ogun.”