Nigeria: Tomato farmers struggle to combat pest infestation

| June 20, 2016

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Nigerians love tomatoes. They are an important ingredient in many popular dishes, and farmers like them because they fetch a good price in the market.

But this year, farmers in the Kaduna State of north central Nigeria are facing losses after much of their tomatoes were wiped out by a pest infestation. Nearly 80% of the tomato crop in the state was lost to a leafminer moth called Tuta absoluta.

Mallam Sagir Bala is a farmer in Afaka village, in Kaduna State. He says the pest outbreak this year has been devastating for tomato farmers. He explains, “A kind of worm develops and eats up the tomato leaves within a very short time, and this [negatively] affects the tomato yields.”

He used to earn at least 300,000 naira [$1,500 US] a year from tomatoes. He says, “I was even able to buy a motorcycle with the proceeds, and I had a lot of money left. But this year, I cannot even make up to 50,000 naira [$250 US].”

Mr. Bala has been growing tomatoes for 30 years. He says this is the second time he has seen a massive pest infestation, but that the impact is more devastating this year. He explains, “We are struggling to combat it. It wasn’t a regular menace, so no precautionary measures were taken. We are just waiting for further directives from the government.”

The Kaduna State government has declared a state of emergency in tomato farming, and the minister of agriculture and rural development has called on experts to find methods to control the infestation.

Zainab is a consumer of tomatoes in Abuja, the capital city of Nigeria. She has noticed a dramatic price increase. She says, “A basket of tomatoes used to be 3,000 Naira [$15 US], but almost overnight it became 12,000 Naira [$60 US].” The handmade tomato baskets hold between 40 and 65 kilos of tomatoes.

Taiwo Ganzallo is an agriculture expert in Lagos State, which, along with other parts of the country, has been hit by the infestation. He says one of the reasons for the pest infestation is the heavy rains. He explains: “Tomatoes have a certain amount of water they require to be viable. Usually, irrigation is best because you can give the plants the optimal amount of water. When the rain falls, though, it falls a lot, and you don’t have that level of control. This makes the plants more susceptible to rot, mildew, and disease.”

But all is not lost for Nigerian tomato farmers.

Art Cardoso is the lead agronomist at Tomato Jos Company, in the small town of Panda, in Nassarawa State. Mr. Cardoso says he didn’t think Tuta absoluta was very dangerous until he visited a farm outside Abuja. He recalls, “I walked through a greenhouse and nurseries, and everything was just wiped out by Tuta.

But Mr. Cardoso says the infestation can be combated with pesticides. He explains: “We have some effective and pretty readily available pesticides in the country. [For instance,] we have used abamectin and chlorantraniliprole with success. We used it last year and got through the year, and so far it’s working this year.”

For now, though, farmers are struggling to make sense of the situation. Mr. Bala says, “For now, no more [planting] tomatoes.” Instead, he has turned to maize—and to the government experts. He says, “I learned the government brought some researchers in to help solve the problem. I pray they come up with a positive outcome.”