After tomato farms were devastated by the tomato ebola, resulting in farmers losing approximately N1.3 billion, Ikechi Agbugba, a former consultant for the United Nations, suggested that both governments and farmers should implement preventive measures to avoid future losses.
Tomato ebola, also known as tomato leaf miner, is a type of moth that inflicts damage on tomato farms and is caused by an insect known as tuta absoluta. The infectious insects initially began destroying tomato farms in Galama Local Government in Kano, and then spread to other states such as Kaduna, Katsina, and Gombe, according to the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (FMARD).
The FMARD was worried that the tomato shortage in Nigeria could worsen, leading to an increase in demand for up to three million metric tonnes, as opposed to the current deficit of 1.3 million. In fact, the FMARD stated that Nigeria requires approximately 5.4 million metric tonnes of tomatoes. Agbugba, who is both a senior lecturer at the Department of Agriculture and Applied Economics at Rivers State University in Port Harcourt, cautioned that the tomato ebola could affect even more farmers.
What are the options available to farmers?
As per the advice of the tomato farming specialist, farmers can decrease the probability of disease outbreaks by implementing improved farming techniques and management practices to ensure better productivity.
The specialist suggests using tomato seed varieties that are immune to the tomato ebola disease and adopting the practice of crop rotation to control its spread.
In addition, the speaker recommended that any plants affected by tuta absoluta and any leftover plant debris after harvesting should be completely removed or destroyed from the farm. As a solution for managing the infestation, he proposed the use of predatory mirid bugs as a form of biological control.
To address the challenges they are facing, the speaker suggested that farmers could seek financial and technical support from NGOs and government organizations. They could also work together with research institutions, food and agricultural experts to develop and implement innovative farming methods and technological solutions that can minimize crop damage.
Agbugba, an experienced academic and researcher who has advised the UN on horticulture-based initiatives, has suggested that the government should make a significant investment in research to address the current situation. To effectively tackle the problem, he believes this is necessary.
To assist farmers and horticulture-based researchers who are concentrating on tomatoes, Agbugba recommends that the government provide subsidies and other financing options to help them purchase high-quality seeds, fertilizers, and equipment.
It is certain that the government has the ability to establish strategies and advocate initiatives that can improve and stimulate investment in the tomato sector, which will reinforce the tomato supply chains and foster cooperation among the stakeholders involved in the supply chain, resulting in a coordinated effort to address the problems encountered by the industry,” he stated.
One possible way to encourage investment in tomato production and processing is to provide tax benefits to companies.
Consequently, there is an opportunity for the government to allocate resources towards developing transportation and storage infrastructure, as this will significantly reduce losses that occur after harvesting.