The federal government on Tuesday confirmed the six states hit by a pest called the Tomato Leaf Miner or Tuta absoluta, commonly referred to as ‘Tomato Ebola.’
The states are Jigawa, Kano, Katsina, Kaduna, Plateau and Lagos.
The Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Mr. Audu Ogbeh, revealed that the pest responsible for the massive destruction of tomato in farmlands had currently invaded six states of the federation.
Speaking at a press briefing in Abuja, he described as erroneous, claims that tomato processing factories had mopped-up tomato fruits in country.
He said the highly reproductive nature of the tomato pest coupled with favourable environment and lack of management knowledge for containment had resulted in its spread without resistance, leading to the destruction of tomato fruits in Jigawa, Kano, Katsina, Kaduna, Plateau and Lagos.
Notwithstanding, he said the federal government had started consulting with states and experts to seeks measures to tackle the pest.”
He disclosed that the country spent N80 billion ($400 million) annually on importation of tomato paste, many of which highly substandard.
The minister said: “The pest can also attack even pepper and Irish potato. So we are confronting something quite serious. But the good thing is that we are tackling it right now as experts will commence work immediately. We are bringing the commissioners and governors of states to jointly attack this pest, which if not dealt with, will create serious problems for food security in our country.”
He said: ”We have two processing plants for tomato paste in Nigeria, Erisco and Dangote, and their capacities are huge. We welcome their arrival because our annual import bill of tomato past is about $400m and it is a good sign that we can now produce here and make money for our farmers.”
He added that experts had already offered other varieties of tomato that grow well in the western part of the country as alternatives to the existing genre.
Ogbeh said the pest (tuta absoluta) was discovered in South America in 1912 where it ravaged many farms before it spread to Europe and then to Asia and now to East and West Africa.
According to him, the pest came into the country from Niger Republic and manifests a powerful infestation that could make it impossible for the country to grow tomatoes, if not dealt with.
He added that said the price of tomatoes had gone so high that a basket now sold for between N35, 000 to N42,000 in Lagos as a result of the pest attack.
He said: ”We have called in experts and we have studied the profile of what we have to do with the pest. Unfortunately, ordinary pesticides cannot deal with this `tuta absoluta’ because it has a way of multiplying so fast. It produces almost 250 offspring per cycle; we are in contact with a group which had dealt with this in other countries and they are offering us solutions. In the next few days we shall get to work on this and begin treatment. It is going to be quite expensive as it will cost about five naira per tomato plant.”