The price of fresh tomato is rising across Nigeria as the Tuta Absoluta pest ravages farms in the northern part of the country.
PREMIUM TIMES had reported how the resurfacing of the pest had affected tomato farms in Kano State.
The National President of Tomato Out Growers Association of Nigeria (TOGAN), Abdulahi Ringim, also revealed that Tuta absoluta, one of the most devastating pests affecting tomato crops, reappeared in Kaduna and Katsina states in April.
In 2016, there was a scarcity of tomatoes in major markets in the country due to the outbreak of Tuta Absoluta, also known as Tomato Leafminer or Tomato Ebola.
It was said to have caused about 80 per cent loss of tomato production in the country, astronomically increasing the market price of the essential vegetable nationwide.
Although tomato appears to be a primary host of the pest, it has also been reported to attack eggplant and potato.
Since it was detected in Eastern Spain in 2006, it has invaded other parts of the world.
Its outbreak was first reported in two West Africa countries, Niger and Senegal, before its attack on Nigeria tomatoes.
In Nigeria, it was first detected in Daura, Katsina State in April 2015, in Kano State two months later and in Abeokuta, Ogun State in September the same year. It has since spread to all the other tomato producing states in the country.
It was reported that the invasion of the pest caused the shutdown of Dangote Tomato Processing Factory in 2015.
In 2016, the Kaduna State government declared a state of emergency in the state’s tomato sector due to the attack of the pest on farms.
“Yes, Tuta absoluta is presently ravaging farms in Kaduna and Katsina states,” Mr Ringim said.
“I will say that the virus manifested around April, which was the end of the tomato season except for some varieties.”
He added that the tomato shortage caused by the outbreak will cause the price to go up
“Obviously, it will cause losses on the part of farmers. As a result of Absoluta they will lose yield and also huge money, some of them may even have difficulty to pay back the loan from the Anchor Borrowers Programme (ABP).
“It will also cause an increase in tomato prices. This is even pre-harvest, it will also affect the supply and once the supply goes down the price goes up,’’ he said.
Mr Ringim said despite efforts to help curb the disease, it is still ravaging tomato farms especially in the northern part Nigeria.
“Well, last year or two, there was an attempt by the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (FMARD) to supply chemicals that help curb the Tuta Absoluta.
“But there are two issues. One, we are aware that this disease is kind of genetic, I mean it will come every year to the extent like when you drop a seed to dry and stay temporary when it rains, it comes back.
“But the magnitude now may not be as much as when it originally started and when there was no medicine at all,” he said.
“Some two years ago or so, the Ministry of Agriculture in collaboration with some non-governmental organisations did supply some chemicals that curb Tuta Absoluta at that time but it was the tail end of the tomato season then.
“So the association was with some of these remaining chemicals that were not used. What we did was, we immediately distributed the chemicals to our farmers in Kano, Katsina and Kaduna but it was not sufficient,” he said.
He, however, noted that since the resurfacing of the pest in 2020, the ministry has not done anything to help farmers fight it.
“We did make the report, I mean they are aware of it. But again, because the government has not done anything, I slashed the distribution of the chemicals to farmers. This distribution was the year before,” he said.
“So because by the time we start writing and then the bureaucracy takes two to three months, maybe by then the season is already up.
“But what I intend to do, in our next association meeting we are going to write to the minister and other NGOs even if is to document it against next year. We don’t have to wait until it happens before we now start acting.
“If they can assist us with chemicals then we keep it, since it has about three to five years expiring date.
“So when it happens, we just apply it. But now is the end of the season, even if you apply for it, it will take one to two months before they will respond, they will even tell you that all the senior officials are attending to office issues. But there’s nothing from the Ministry so far,” he said.
Also speaking to PREMIUM TIMES, Michael Kanu, the Deputy Director, Horticulture in the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development said “Tuta has come to stay.”
“When it came first, the government mobilised locally and internationally and made sure that the farmers were given the right kits to work with, made sure they had the training and capacity to manage it.
“Several workshops we had with them, we were going to them for these workshops,” he said.
“But the government has definitely put strategies in place for managing it. I know in Kano there are inputs meant for Tuta management there. There are also plans to get more of these inputs pushed to the North-West. We know that’s the centre of tomato production in Nigeria.
“But one thing we must also know as a person is not waiting for the government. If the government keeps supporting without you making your own effort to support yourself, it means that you want to become dependent,” he said.
Tomato Prices Soar
A market survey conducted by this reporter in Gosa Market, one of the major Friday markets in the Federal Capital Territory, showed that the price of tomato had skyrocketed over a few months.
A tomato dealer at the market, Saifullahi Ayagi, attributed the increase in prices to the planting season and the resurfacing of the pest.
“I dey buy tomatoes from Zaria and Kano States but that tomato Ebola something is from Kano State,” he said in Pidgin English.
He said he did not go to Kano that week for supply but instead went to Zaria and got his stock at the rate of N8,000 per basket. “Now I enter Gosa and sell it at the price of N12, 000 to N 13,000.”
He said a basket of tomatoes used to go for about N5,000. “But now, no. I don’t know what happens in Kano, more than two weeks now I have not entered Kano to buy tomato because something dey spoil Kano tomato now,’’ he said.
Another tomato dealer, Sariki Yakubu, said, “before I used to sell a basket of tomato at the rate of N 5,000 to N6,000 but you see now I sell at the rate of N12,000 to N13,000.
“Very soon tomato will reach N15,000 to N20,000,” he said.
Ezeokoli Charity, who was at the market to buy tomatoes, explained that tomato prices tend to rise towards May.
“I noticed say tomato dey cost during this period,” she said.
Mallam Salisu, a tomato dealer at Garki Model market, Abuja, also attributed the rising prices to the tomato pest.
He said: “This Tomato Ebola that attacks Kano State will contribute to tomato scarcity if care is not taken. The price will further increase and this increment may last for months,” Mr Salisu said.
In an interview with Premium Times, the Sarki of Hausa community in Ido Ekiti, Muhammadu Sani who is also a dealer in tomatoes in the state, attributed the rise in tomato price to seasonality.
“Tomato does not do well during this season. I sell a basket of tomato for N13,000 to N14,000. The price increases during the rainy season.
“I even heard that there is this pest destroying tomato farms in the north now,” he said.
At the Mile 12 International food market in Lagos, a basket of tomato which sold for N8,000 before now costs an average of N15,000.