Tomato scarcity looms as Tuta gathers steam

Tuta absoluta, a leaf miner, which had caused huge losses to tomato farmers in years past, has reared its ugly head again. KEHINDE OSASONA gives more insight in this report.

Since the scourge of Tuta absoluta, a deadly tomato ebola, returned in 2023, it has caused a significant number of severe infestations to tomato farms in Kano.

While the federal government was making efforts at eradicating the current outbreak, reports from the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (FMARD) have indicated that over 300 hectares of tomato farmlands were destroyed in Kano alone in 2023, when the blight resurfaced.

Although the Minister of Agriculture, Senator Abubakar Kyari, confirmed that a severe infestation of the tomato crop was the reason for the recent price increase across the country.

Unconfirmed reports gathered by this reporter have indicated that farmers, especially in the North, the hub of tomato production in the country, may have incurred not less than N1.3 billion economic losses, just as it has been unable to control the looming scarcity of the popular veggies.

According to a recent Food Price Watch report for April from the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), there has been a significant increase in tomato prices since the first tomato virus incident.

Blueprint Weekend recalls that Tuta first emerged in 2016 and it was a war as researchers and the ministry of agriculture fought so hard to repel it.

According to a market survey carried out by this reporter, a basket of tomatoes is currently selling for N150, 000 or more depending on the bargaining power of the buyer.

However, prices also differ from place to place, but the disturbing aspect has been that the new tuta challenge has led to scarcity and hike in price.

Combined efforts being made

Over the time, the government, stakeholders and researchers have been meeting and planning to get rid of the scourge permanently. Not only that, they are also working so hard to prevent the possibility of further spread to adjoining states like Katsina, Kaduna, Jigawa, Bauchi and Gombe.

One of them, the late president of the Nigerian Agricultural Business Group (NABG), Emmanuel Ijewere, was quoted as saying that stakeholders had resolved to declare a total war on the invading insects.

The worrisome development, Ijewere said, cannot be left alone for the farmers, and assured that NABG was organising a stakeholders’ meeting to address the challenge. He lamented that both processors and farmers, who had invested heavily on their farms for tomato production, would both bear the brunt.

“Tuta absoluta is an insect that has ravaged tomato farms and from what we have discovered, the insect is very devastating to the tomato and is so smart.

“The insects have decided to build their homes under the leaves and when the insecticide is sprayed it doesn’t affect them.

“The affected states are mainly Kano, Kaduna, Katsina and Gombe, but the insects don’t need a visa to go to any other states as long as the conditions are right.

“Climate change has enhanced the movement of pests around the field; the warm environment helps them to spread wide, increased humidity allows these pests to thrive, hence the new outbreak of Tuta absoluta,” he said.

Also proffering a way forward, the head, Biopesticide Center,

Nigeria; Nigerian Horticultural Research Institute (NIHORT), Oladigbolu Abiola, who regretted the massive losses caused by the pest, said it had disrupted the tomato value chain.

He said, “The sole dependence on synthetic insecticides for the control of Tuta has resulted in development of resistance, a change in the sensitivity of Tuta population to synthetic pesticides, resulting in the failure of a correct application of the pesticides to control Tuta as is being experienced now; hence aggravating outbreaks whilst the food security of the nation is threatened.”


Food sellers and traders alike have continually expressed disbelief over the sudden price hike again.

Speaking exclusively to Blueprint Weekend, Debbie Aduda said to get tomatoes at the various markets and joints have been herculean. Apart from the unpredictable price increase, she added that “it is now being hoarded.”

“I found out that the little supplies from the north to Abuja are being hoarded by the salesmen who might be keeping for the highest bidder, who in turn take to Lagos or Port Harcourt to sell at higher prices. It is that bad.

‘Worst still, the seasonal fluctuations in the quantity of tomatoes produced has not helped matters. It is either not in good condition from the source, being a perishable veggie, or costly, and we must buy it daily to cook food,” she said.

A tomato bulk seller in Abuja who belongs to the association, but is not authorised to speak, exonerated the trader from any accusation that has to do with price hike or fluctuation of tomato supplies.

“Oga, the problem is not from traders, we sell based on the amount we buy and we must make out gains too.

“What do you want us to do? I just want you to know that any product that is scarce must add money. I think that is what is happening to tomatoes, not us.”

Also speaking exclusively to this reporter, a tomato grower in Kaduna, Amisu Mohammed, said as Cooperative tomato farmers, they used to operate and plant massively until the diseases came, adding that many left tomato farming for other vegetables while others are into Keke and Achaba business to survive.

‘Many of us were strange to the disease as we had not seen it before. But when government people came, they assured us that they would fight the disease and they did. But it came back after some months and we spent a lot of money controlling it. That affected a lot of us and they ran away with only a little still planting tomatoes now.”

Going forward

Plant scientists and experts from CropLife Nigeria, while offering solutions, recommended use of insecticides like Lambdacyhalothin, Imidacloprid, Cypermethrin, Emamectin Benzoate and Chlorphyrifos, saying it was used for similar incidences elsewhere and it worked.

In addition, they advised farmers to inculcate cultural, behavioural, biological and chemical options in their control methods.