The Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Chief Audu Ogbe, has said that it was untrue that tomato processing factories had mopped-up tomato fruits in Nigeria.
He told newsman in his office, on Tuesday, in Abuja that: “Misconception that tomato processing factories have mopped-up tomato fruits in Nigeria is unfounded and untrue”.
Recently, a pest identified as “Tuta absoluta”, locally called “Tomato Ebola”, a leaf miner moth that bores into the fruits and stem causing enormous food loss, invaded tomato farms in Nigeria. It is believed that the infestation by Tuta can ravage and wipe out tomato farms within 48 hours.
Ogbeh said, “The pest is known world-wide as it originated from South America, as far back as 1912, and has ravage tomato farms in so many countries of the world till date – including Europe, Middle East, Asia and Africa. Between 2006 and 2008, it invaded tomato farms in Spain, Italy, France, Greece, Malta, Algeria and Morocco; between 2009 to 2010, it was in Libya, Turkey, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq and Iran.
He pointed out that 2011 and 2013, it was in Sudan, Ethiopia, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Oman and other gulf states were affected, and in 2014 Kenya, Tanzania, Niger and finally it was in Nigeria in 2015.
“All these countries suffered the same faith Nigeria found herself today. It entered Nigeria through Niger as predicted at a meeting held in Ethiopia in 2013; into katsina, Kano, Jigawa, Kaduna, Nasarawa and spread to other tomato producing farms in the North, as well as the Southern states of Lagos, Oyo and Ogun”.
He said that lack of management knowledge of containment resulted to its spread, like wildfire, without containment effort, stressing that Tuta Absoluta was a very difficult pest to control, as it developed resistance to pesticides.
He said the Federal Government became aware of the pest in late 2015 and quickly directed the National Horticulture Research Institute, in Ibadan, an agency on tomato research and development, to move into action and proffer solution to the menace.
“After a survey, recommendations were made to the Federal Government which led to the inclusion of Tuta Absoluta containment programme in the National Budget of 2016. The government also sort collaboration with Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) to come up with a containment solution which is still ongoing in Nigeria”.
Ogbeh assured that the Ministry is currently working with Agronet Nig., Representative of Russel United Kingdom, which is an expert in Tuta Absoluta containment programme.
“The team is expected to deliver the containment packs within the shortest possible time. This will enable farmers resume production activities with desired yield to help the precarious situation at hand.
The Federal Government will partner with the states and the local government areas to ensure complete containment of the pest and farmers would continue a sustainable production of fruits for local consumption and provide raw materials for processing”, he said.