The Federal Government, on Tuesday, said the pest, Tomato Leaf Miner or Tuta absoluta, commonly referred to as ‘Tomato Ebola’, has invaded six states in Nigeria.
The states are Jigawa, Kano, Katsina, Kaduna, Plateau and Lagos.
Tomato Ebola is responsible for the massive destruction of tomato in farmlands, and has led to its scarcity in the market.
The price of tomatoes had gone so high that a basket now sells between N35, 000 to N42,000 in Lagos as a result of the pest attack.
The Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Mr. Audu Ogbeh, while speaking at a press briefing in Abuja, 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 the states.
He however noted that the federal government had started consulting with states and experts to seek measures to tackle the pest.
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.
“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.
“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.”
The pest, (tuta absoluta), was first 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.
It 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.