Africa has a tomato problem: Miner grubs are wiping out crops and have ‘the potential to effectively eliminate tomato from the agricultural cycle’Posted by Jim at Monday, June 13, 2016
By Matthew Hill and Mustapha Muhammad
9 June 2016
(Bloomberg News) – Yusuf Ibrahim, a tomato farmer in Kano, Nigeria, has lost almost 90 percent of his crop this year to Tuta absoluta. That prices for the fruit are 15 times higher than before the outbreak of the pest is little consolation; he can’t afford to plant the corn and rice he normally does after harvesting tomatoes.
Since arriving from South America via Spain in 2008, Tuta absoluta, also known as the tomato-leaf miner, has spread across at least 15 African countries. The moth that’s about the size of a headphone jack landed in Nigeria, the continent’s biggest economy, in 2015. The main tomato-producing region’s government declared a state of emergency, and the Africa’s richest man, Aliko Dangote, had to halt output at a $20 million processing plant due to lack of supply.
“The farmlands look abandoned, dry but with wilted plants,” Ibrahim said on June 6. “After harvesting tomatoes, most farmers go for maize or rice farming on the same land, but most of the land isn’t being used because of losses. The don’t have enough to go for another round.”
The fruit is used to enhance staple starch dishes across the continent, including jollof rice in the west and as a sauce poured over a stiff, corn-based porridge in South Africa. Africa exported almost $800 million of tomatoes in 2015, or about 10 percent of the world’s total, according to the Geneva-based International Trade Center. The continent produced $6.9 billion of the fruit in 2013, the Food and Agriculture Organization estimates.
Tuta absoluta broke out in Zambia last month, raising the threat of infestation in surrounding countries. While the pest is yet to be detected in South Africa, the risk rises as it spreads, Jan Hendrik Venter, a plant health early-warnings scientist at the nation’s Agriculture Ministry, said by e-mail.
“Tuta has the potential to effectively eliminate tomato from the agricultural cycle," Richard Hopkins, head of pest behavior at the London-based University of Greenwich’s Natural Resources Institute, said by e-mail. […]
“This is going to cause havoc but nobody cares until it hits,” said Shakir Al-Zaidi, managing director at Russell IPM, a U.K.-based pest-management company that’s been fighting Tuta absoluta for 10 years. [more]