Nigeria fights 'tomato Ebola'

Nigeria is facing a tomato shortage.
Nigeria is facing a tomato shortage. Wikipedia

On Tuesday, a state government in northern Nigeria declared a state of emergency about … tomatoes. Moths have destroyed a massive part of this year’s crop of tomatoes, which are one of the country's staple foods.


At fault for the blight that has been nicknamed “the tomato Ebola” is a moth called the tuta absoluta.

Kaduna state agriculture minister Mando Daniel said this pest had destroyed 80 percent of tomato farms. In Kano, agricultural officials reported that 90 percent had been destroyed.

“I read about this moth, so I took precautions early on,” Nkiru Okpareke, who owns Envirogro farms, told RFI. “I grow my tomatoes in greenhouses and use pesticides.”

Her neighbour was not so lucky.

“I went to the farm and I saw the devastation. It was like the biblical plague of the locusts that devastated Egypt,” Okpareke said. “There was no green left. Moreover, the moths come like thieves in the night, you don't even know until morning what they’ve done.”

Resistant to pesticides

The moths lay eggs on the tomato plants and the caterpillars eat the leaves. They are particularly difficult to get rid of.

“These bugs have grown resistant to some of the pesticides”, said Abigail Anaba, the editor of the AgroNigeria news magazine. “We need to educate our farmers about effective pesticide use. For example, many put on the pesticides during the day, but you have to do it between 1am and 4am, when the moths are most active.”

A lot of the pesticides used have been adulterated, she added. These watered-down pesticides don’t kill the moths but help them build up a resistance.

The Nigerian government announced that they’ve sent experts abroad to find out more about how to combat the moths.

Compounded issues

Nigerians are already dealing with spiralling inflation and a 67 percent rise in the price of fuel.

Food prices have also been rising across the country. One huge factor has actually been the Boko Haram insurgency, which has basically stopped agricultural production in the north-east. There’s also been ongoing violence between farmers and herdsmen in the “Middle Belt" region, another big farming centre.

The tomato crisis has hit on top of these issues.

Cooking without tomatoes

“A whole lot of farmers are out of business,” Anaba said. “In the meantime, people are coming up with ways of cooking without tomatoes. Because tomatoes are a staple here.”

The shortage means that prices for tomatoes have skyrocketed. Nigeria is also importing more tomatoes than ever before.

“Neighbouring west African countries like Ghana and Cameroon are actually benefitting from this right now,” said Anaba.

The tomato emergency is all over social media. While some people are genuinely worrying about how they are going to make jollof rice, others are cracking jokes. Many Nigerians posted photos of an annual tomato-throwing festival in Spain… and lamented the wasted fruit.

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