Tomato Ebola: Six things you should know about Tuta absoluta

An epidemic known as Tuta absoluta is fast assuming the same notoriety as the deadly Ebola Virus which found its way into Nigeria in 2014. What really is this scourge that is destroying tomato plantations and threatening our jollof rice?

  1. What is it?

Tuta absoluta is a species of moth commonly known as tomato leafminer or South American tomato moth. The larva feeds voraciously upon tomato plants, producing large galleries in leaves, burrowing in stalks, and consuming apical buds and green and ripe fruits. It is capable of causing a yield loss of 100%. The damage occurs throughout the entire growing cycle of tomatoes. Each female Tuta absoluta can lay 250-300 eggs in her lifetime.

  1. Where did it come from?

The moth is known to have originated in South America in the 1980s. It was first detected in Spain in 2006 from where it spread to France, United Kingdom, Italy, Greece, Malta, Morocco, Algeria and Libya. In 2009 it was first reported from Turkey. The spread continued to the east to reach Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq and Iran. Further advances southward reached Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Oman and the rest of the Gulf States. In Africa, Tuta absoluta moved from Egypt to reach Sudan, South Sudan, Kenya, Tanzania and Ethiopia from the east and to reach the Senegal from the west. It was first reported in Nigeria in 2016.

  1. Does it affect only tomato?

Tomato is the main host plant, but Tuta absoluta also attacks other crop plants of the nightshade family, including potato, eggplant, pepino and tobacco. It is known from many solanaceous weeds, including Datura stramonium, Lycium chilense, and Solanum nigrum.

  1. How bad is the epidemic in Nigeria?

The Kaduna State Government on Monday declared a state of emergency on tomatoes because of Tuta absoluta. Dr Manzo Daniel, the commissioner for agriculture and forestry, said more than 200 tomato farms had been affected in three local government areas, with an estimated loss of N2 billion. More than 90% of 17,000 hectares of tomato fields outside the northern city of Kano have also been destroyed by the insect. Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Audu Ogbeh, confirmed on Tuesday that Jigawa, Kano, Katsina, Kaduna, Plateau and Lagos have been hit by the moth. The situation in Kaduna is most worrying, as UN figures show that Nigeria’s biggest tomato production takes place there. A wholesale basket of tomatoes now sells for N42,000 up from N1,500 before the outbreak.

  1. What about the Dangote intervention?

Dangote Tomato Processing Factory, a newly commissioned plant owned by Africa’s richest man, Aliko Dangote, was forced to suspend operations due to the unavailability fresh tomatoes. Managing Director of the factory, Abdulkadir Kaita, told the News Agency of Nigeria on Friday, May 13 that the destruction of several tomato farms in Kano, Jigawa, Plateau, Katsina and Kaduna states had resulted in scarcity and higher prices for the crop.

  1. Can Tuta absoluta be controlled?

Various strategies could be applied to control Tuta absoluta. The use of pheromone traps is a reliable method to detect the presence of the pest. Pheromone trap data gives early warning of the infestation and also alerts the user to low level of populations before they become serious. There are other forms of biological, chemical and integrated pest control mechanism.