Consumers of fresh tomatoes in Nigeria are gradually switching to pastes, on account of a ravaging insect pest known as ‘Tuta Absoluta’ which has destroyed an estimated 40 percent of anticipated harvest, causing prices to shoot up by 105 percent, from N17,000 to N35,000 per basket.
Many fresh tomato sellers have also resorted to purchasing the produce from neighbouring countries, especially the Republic of Benin and Cameroon, in an effort to bridge the shortfall in Nigeria.
The disease which farmers also refer to as ‘Tomato Ebola’ has reduced locally available fresh tomatoes, forcing consumers to buy canned purees/pastes which are relatively cheaper.
Tuta absoluta is a harmful leaf mining moth, also called tomato leaf miner and has a strong preference for the tomato plant.
The moth travels and breeds in swarms and has a reputation for swiftly ravaging tomato cultivation in a little above 48 hours – prompting farmers to nickname it Tomato Ebola.
The moth and its lava feed on the leaves of the tomato plant, depriving it of the nutrient to flower and develop fruit.
The disease has spread across tomato farmlands in the north of Nigeria, including areas in and around Makarfi, Hunkuyi, Soba and Zuntu villages in Kaduna State; in Danja, Katsina State, and in Kadawa, Dakasoye and Kura villages in Kano State, according to Agro Nigeria.
Tomatoes constitute 18 percent of all vegetables consumed by Nigeria’s 180 million populace, according to a research by the Agricultural Economics Department of the University of Ibadan, Oyo State Nigeria.
Nigeria’s domestic demand for tomatoes is put at 2.3 million tonnes, while it produces only 1.8 million tons annually, according to the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (FMARD).
A cross-section of consumers in Lagos and other major cities told BusinessDay that they had to resort to buying tomato puree when they found that the price of the fresh fruit had risen by over 100 percent.
“There is a disease now that has made fresh tomatoes more expensive. You can imagine that a basket of tomatoes which went for N17,000 last month now sells for almost N35,000. Some of us now buy the cheaper cans and sachets,” said Alice Aliagun, managing director of small-scale Sandton Shop in Lagos.
According to Lawal Biliya Adam, secretary, tomato section of the perishable goods segment of Mile 12 Market in Lagos, there is the scarcity of tomatoes currently in the market, owing to ‘Tuta Absoluta’ disease that has affected most tomato farmlands in the north.“We now send some of our boys to Cameroon to buy tomatoes since we cannot meet up with demand,” Adam said.
“Sellers bring in tomato from Ghana, Togo and Benin Republic to sell in Nigeria,” said Abiodun Oyelekan, Lagos State president of FADAMA project, and chief executive officer of Farm Fresh Agric Ventures.
According to Oyelekan, countries on the West Africa coast usually complement one another in the area of vegetables because when there is scarcity of tomatoes in one country, there is a surplus in others.
Bashir Zakari, a tomato seller in Mile 12 market said a basket of tomatoes now sells between N28,000 and N35,000 depending on the size of the basket, as against N17,000 and N18,000 obtainable a month ago.
“The price of tomatoes usually goes up by this time of the year, but this year’s increase is higher because of the tomato disease that has affected some farms in the north. It has also been raining excessively in the north and this inhibits the progress of tomatoes,” he added.