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Why threat of Tomato scarcity persists

By Gbenga Akinfenwa
14 May 2023   |   3:03 am
Again, Nigerians are faced with a fresh hardship as tomato scarcity hits markets across the country. T

Tomato

• Produce price attracts 100% hike in two weeks
• Farmers suffer over N1.3b losses to pest

Again, Nigerians are faced with a fresh hardship as tomato scarcity hits markets across the country.

Though the development was envisaged few weeks back due to the resurgence of the deadly tomato disease – Tuta Absoluta, also known as Tomato Ebola in Kano State, but nobody, not even the farmers, hardly anticipated the extent of devastation on farms as the supply gap across the country has widened tremendously.

Unfortunately, the situation may get worse in the next few weeks, as there seems to be no solution in sight, based on reports that the disease might spread to other states.

Currently, based on The Guardian’s market survey in Lagos, the price of the produce has increased with about 100 per cent. At the popular Mile 12 market, Ketu, a basket, which sells around N15,000 to N20, 000 earlier in the year, has increased to between N50,000 and N55,000 in the last two weeks.

A paint plastic size, sold for between N500 and N800, now sells between N3,000 and N3, 200. The volume usually sold for N200 has increased to N500, while the least sold in the coned-shaped modus, sold between N50 and N100 has been pegged at N200.

As a result, the pain of consumers and farmers, who are still grappling with the negative impact of the naira redesign policy, has deepened. Many households are currently spending extra cost to buy the produce, while those who could not afford are devising alternatives.

The crop disease, which was first reported in Kano State at the early period of dry season, crippling hectares of cultivated farms, has spread to four other states – Kaduna, Katsina, Jigawa and Gombe, leaving growers in irreparable losses running into billions of naira.

In Kano alone, more than 300 hectares were destroyed by the disease, which affected more than 500 farmers, with losses incurred roughly estimated to be 1.3b. For now, the number of hectares and farmers affected in the other affected states are still being computed.

The Secretary-General, National Tomato Growers, Processors and Marketers Association of Nigeria, Sani Danladi, who bemoaned the unfortunate development, said 90 per cent of tomato in Kano were ruined by the pest.

Said he: “This pest attack is different from the caterpillars; it is very devastating as you can’t eat the tomato.”

In a recent interview with The Guardian, Kabiru Dakasoye, who grows tomatoes and other vegetables in commercial quantity in Dakasoye village in Garun-Mallam local council, narrated how he lost about N5m to the deadly pest on his two hectares plantation.

“We thought year 2020 would be the last and end of Tuta Absoluta on our production until recently, exactly towards the beginning and middle of dry season. I lost my entire produce on two hectares of land to the pest, running into about N5m – if sum up both production cost and profit.”

Dakasoye lamented that he has not received any intervention from government since the invasion of the pest on their farms.

Another tomato farmer in Kadawa village, Kura local council, Yahaya Usman, said he incurred about N3m loss to the pest attack. “I lost all my investment on my two hectares of land after the pest attack that damaged the produce. My cost of production including labour and other input running into N3m cannot be recovered any more, except government intervenes.”

The Director of Horticulture, Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, Dr. Deola Lordbanjoce, said the current Tuta Absoluta invasion started from Galama local council of Kano State.

“When it was reported, we started our investigation and we found out that about 300 hectares in that council alone were affected.
“And from our end, we need to look into the economics of what we are talking about. Then, we got to know that the farmers in that council arising from the infestation of Tuta Absoluta may have lost about N1.3b,” he said.

The director said the ministry was working in collaboration with the National Tomato Growers, Processors and Marketers Association of Nigeria every time and investigating what is happening in other states.

The CEO/Founder, of Pepperest Limited, Oluwatosin Johnson, who also bemoaned the situation, said the increase in the price of the produce is exponential.
“The fundamentals and challenges of vegetable farming are similar. Every season comes with its challenges. Almost 70 per cent of recurrent expenditure goes into pest/disease control.

“In an ideal circumstance, the research arm of our agricultural ministry should provide farmers with access to quality seeds that are resistant to these diseases. Farmers should not be at the mercy of retailers of seeds who are still the largest sellers of pesticides. It would not benefit them to make the seeds resistant to pests.”

Johnson said the immediate solution is getting access to good, quality and affordable pesticides. “Long-term solutions are research and development of seeds resistant to diseases and pests. On our farm, we have experimented with seeds from different sources. Exposed to the same environment. One was resistant to pest, and the other was not.”

The former Chairman, Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI) – Agric, who is the Managing Director of Bama Farms, Lagos, Wale Oyekoya, said the disease is very difficult to control once it spreads across a farm.

Oyekoya said the disease could destroy tomato farms “faster than Boko Haram insurgents,” based on the damage wreaked on farmlands in Kano years back.

“There is no immediate solution apart from spraying the entire farm with insecticides. The disease is affecting tomato business with its low yield, thereby increasing the tomato price in the market.

“This is the reason farmers are advocating for the insurance company to protect them against such occurrences and subsequent calamity. It is always a total loss once the disease invades any tomato farm. The type of species planted is also a factor and the more reason we want the Federal Government to improve on our crops research and development such as the IITA.

“We need seeds that will do better in our climate and environment instead of all the so-called imported hybrid seeds that our local farmers do not know the origin or how it is treated. We need to develop ourselves instead of depending on other countries technology.  Most of our institutions don’t do research again for lack of funds.”

Considering the enormity of the situation, a meeting was convened a fortnight ago in Abuja, between representatives of the Federal Government, Nigeria Agribusiness Group (NABG), Hort Nigeria, Nigerian Horticultural Research Institute (NIHORT), Sygenta, International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) and others, to deliberate on how to combat the ravaging pests.

The NABG President, Emmanuel Ijewere, revealed that all stakeholders had decided to wage total war on the invading pests.

Ijewere raised concern on the situation, lamenting that significant investments made by farmers are gradually going down the drain.

The Executive Director and Chief Executive Officer of NIHORT, Dr. Mohammad Attanda, represented by Head of the NIHORT Biopesticide Centre, Oladigbolu Abiola, recalled that in 2015, the pest caused enormous destruction and disruption of the tomato value chain, noting that the sole reliance on synthetic insecticides for the control of Tuta absoluta had led to the development of resistance—a change in the sensitivity of the Tuta population to synthetic pesticides.

To forestall future occurrences, he advised farmers to work on the adoption of planting NIHORT’s three recently released tomato seeds bred for high yield, tolerance to fusarium, good shelf life, and nutrition qualities.

He added that the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development should incorporate NIHORT’s sustainable Tuta Integrated Management Package for tomato production in the national tomato policy to forestall recurrence.