Tomato ebola: How farmers, government can curb outbreak after N1.3bn loss – expert

FOLLOWING a ravage of tomato farms by the tomato ebola and a consequent loss of about N1.3 billion to farmers, Ikechi Agbugba, a former United Nations consultant, has advised governments and farmers to take necessary steps to prevent further losses.

Agbuba was a consultant to the food crop production transfer station at Ubiaja, and the National Horticulture Research Institute (NIHORT), Ibadan.

Agbugba, who is the senior advisor with Tomato and Orchard Producers’ Association of Nigeria (TOPAN), shared his thoughts with The ICIR on what needed to be done to rescue the situation, which he described as quite saddening.

Caused by an insect called tuta absoluta, tomato ebola or tomato leaf miner is a specie of moth that ravages tomato farms.

The infectious insects had started their destruction of tomato farms from Galama Local Government in Kano and spread to Kaduna, Katsina and Gombe states, according to the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (FMARD).

The FMARD feared the situation could become more severe, with a consequent widening of the country’s tomato needs to three million metric tonnes from the 1.3 million deficit being experienced.

Nigeria actually needs about 5.4 million metric tonnes, FMARD noted.

Agbugba, who also is a senior lecturer at the Department of Agriculture and Applied Economics, Rivers State University, Port Harcourt, warned that the tomato ebola could afflict more farmers.

What farmers can do?

According to the tomato farming expert, farmers can minimise the likelihood of disease outbreaks by adopting better management practices and farming techniques for effective performance.

“One approach is to use tomato seed varieties that are resistant to the tomato ebola disease, and farmers may adopt the practice of crop rotation in controlling its spread,” he said.

Agbugba: advises farmers to use seed varieties resistant to tomato ebola

“Moreover, infested plants and post-harvest plant debris should be totally removed or eliminated from the farm. Predatory mirid bugs could be deployed as biocontrol to manage tuta absoluta infestation,” he suggested.

He also suggested that farmers could avail themselves of financial and technical assistance from non-government organisations (NGOs) and government entities to tackle the difficulties they are encountering.

Farmers could also collaborate with research institutions, as well as food and agricultural experts to devise or execute novel farming methods and technology solutions that can limit crop losses.

Ways government can rescue the situation

As an academic and researcher with diverse exposure consulting for the UN on horticulture-based projects, Agbugba called for government’s considerable investment in research.

“This will be needed to effectively tackle the situation,” he said.

According to the senior lecturer, the government could further provide subsidies and other funding solutions to aid farmers and horticulture-based researchers, particularly those focusing on tomatoes in purchasing superior quality seeds, fertilisers and equipment.

In other words, NGOs can offer training and technical assistance to build farmers’ capacity in improving their productivity and adopting better farming practices.



    “Undoubtedly, the government can implement policies and promote programmes that can enhance, as well as encourage investment in the tomato industry, thereby strengthening tomato supply chains and also supply chain stakeholders’ collaboration so as to create a unified approach in addressing the challenges faced by the sector,” he said.

    Tax incentives, for instance, can be granted to firms that invest in tomato production and processing.

    “There is, therefore, room for the government to invest in transportation and storage infrastructure as that will, to a large extent, mitigate post-harvest losses.

    “The government can also collaborate with supply chain stakeholders to create a unified approach to address the challenges faced by the sector,” Agbugba added.

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