Tomato prices jump 363% as disease limits production
Nigeria had the opportunity to suppress a recurrence of tomato Ebola virus infection eight years ago after suffering a devastating invasion by the pest Tota absoluta.
However, the government has instead allowed it to recur year after year, resulting in the current havoc in Kano, Kaduna, Katsina and Gombe states, with an estimated loss of 1.3 billion NIHORT, according to the National Institute of Horticultural Research (NIHORT).
The situation in the tomato-producing states has led to a 363 percent increase in fresh tomato prices in Lagos markets within four months.
A large basket of fresh tomatoes at Lagos’ 12 Mile Market sells for between 43,000 and 45,000, depending on negotiation, for 9,500 naira in January, according to a Business Day market survey. The price of a plastic crate of fresh tomatoes ranges between 18,000 and 19,000.
Sani Danladi, Secretary-General of the National Association of Tomato Growers, Processors and Marketers of Nigeria said that tomato farms in Kano have recorded an 80 percent loss due to Tuta Absoluta.
Danlady said the country has failed to address recurrent pest infestations that have led to losses for farmers who are already battling several cases.
“Over 300 hectares have been destroyed by the disease outbreak which has affected more than 500 farmers in Kano state, and has also affected farmers in Kaduna, Katsina, Jigawa and Gombe states,” he said.
According to him, the Tomato Association is still collecting data from the remaining states to be able to assess the loss, and this is the main reason for the high prices of the crop.
Tomato prices usually go up by this time annually because tomatoes do not produce well during the rainy season, but this year the scarcity is more severe and the prices are high because of the tomato Ebola. “It is destroying several farms,” he said.
Tuta Absoluta is known for quickly destroying tomato plants in just over 48 hours – prompting growers to call it Tomato Ebola. They can reproduce between 10 and 12 generations per year with the female being able to lay between 250 and 300 eggs during her lifetime.
If scarcity continues, traders will have to start exporting tomatoes from neighboring West African countries, said Awal Nala Allah Kiro, secretary of the 12 Mile Market.
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Nigeria is the third largest producer of tomatoes in the world and second only to Egypt in Africa, however the country still cannot meet domestic demand because around 50 percent of tomato production is wasted due to lack of storage facilities, poor handling practices, and poor transport network across the country. .
Experts say the recurrence of the tomato Ebola virus without any solution to tackle it on a national scale in Nigeria shows that the concerned authorities seem powerless about preventive measures.
There are chemicals that can help prevent and reduce the spread of disease. Many agricultural companies have long developed products for it. Abiodun Olorondenro, Operations Manager, Aquashots Ltd. said:
“We can afford to downplay any threat to our food security. We need to adopt a comprehensive approach to food security or it will be all talk without action.”
He said that the tomato blight is not only specific to the Nigerian climate, but many other countries have introduced measures to prevent it or reduce its effects, adding that the situation remained the same in Nigeria.
“Continued education of farmers on global best practices and pest management is needed to avoid recurrence of Tuta absoluta,” he added.
The bug Tuta absoluta is an invasive insect that moves from one area to another, noting that it is not alien to Nigeria, said Abiola Oladegboulou, Head of the NIHORT Center for Biopesticides.
According to him, the tota blight attacks the tomato plant by devouring the green part and preventing it from photosynthesizing, which leads to the death of the plant.
He said farmers were supposed to develop management practices as preventative measures but failed to do so causing continued outbreaks, adding that once they invade the environment, they stay there.
“It will continue to recur annually if our farmers refuse to do our bit in terms of management practices. We have educated them on this and have developed management practices and some products.
He urged the government to support the chemical products developed by the institute in order to afford farmers, while calling on the private sector to partner with the research center to upgrade the production of the chemical.
He also called on the government to make it a national policy for tomato growers to get a NIHORT package on their growers to prevent a repeat of the infestation, saying research to develop seeds resistant to Tota is ongoing at the institute.