Nigeria is currently facing a crisis of widespread tomato shortages. The country experienced a drastic drop in tomato production due to an infestation of the tomato leafminer (tuta absoluta) pest. As a result of the shortages, the price of tomatoes in the country has skyrocketed, and the economic cost of the losses on farmers has been very high ( $5.1 million.)
The crop damage is so drastic that one of the country's northern states (Kaduna) recently declared a state of emergency. The shortage tomatoes is affecting the local processing of tomatoes into paste, forcing some processors to suspend operations. You see, tomatoes are very important in Nigeria. They are the most widely grown and consumed vegetable in the country and are used in most of the local dishes.
So what is this tomato leafminer, you ask?
Tomato leafminer (also known as tuta absoluta) is a small moth that causes plant damage by feeding on the tomato fruit, leaves and stems. This can cause large-scale crop losses and low yields.The pest can also be a threat to other plants in the tomato family like potatoes.
How do you control it?
Chemical controls are usually ineffective against tuta absoluta. The pest reproduces too quickly and becomes resistant to most commonly used insecticides. Organic controls are the most effective and efficient the way to go. Some organic controls that farmers can adopt are pheromone-baited traps (such as yellow sticky traps), neem and beneficial bugs. You will need to be more diligent when using organic controls, but it's worth doing.
So what can we learn from this, and what can we do if faced with a similar problem.
Here are some management strategies for pests and diseases:
1. Prevention and early detection are key. When confronted with a pest you should remove and dispose of any diseased plants as soon as possible and don't compost them. most pests and disease are usually a sign that your crop is not getting what it needs. Practice Integrated Pest Management (IPM) practices like crop rotation, mulching, and weeding to help reduce the incidence of disease and loss of nutrients. You can read more on other best practices for tomatoes in our tomato growing guide.
2. Work individually and collectively (as part of a farmer organization or union) to learn how to identify and manage common pests that affect the crops you grow, and alert each other early of the emergence of a common pest.
3. Look into purchasing crop insurance to avoid total financial loss.
4. Diversify your crops. Growing the same crop on the same land year after year is going to lead to disease build up. Look into farming other crops together with and also after you harvest your core crop.
5. Use floating row covers to protect seedlings.