Nigeria grows some 1.5 million tonnes of tomatoes every year, making it the 14th biggest producer in the world. But less than three months after its richest man Aliko Dangote’s tomato processing factory came on stream, it has suspended production.
Managing Director of the Dangote Tomato Processing Factory in Kadawa, Kano State, Alhaji Abdulkadir Kaita told the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) that the factory had to stop production due to lack of fresh tomatoes to process into paste. The scarcity of the fruit has also led to price increase of about 125 percent.
The tomato processing company was intended to fill a huge gap in the agricultural sector where about 750,000 tonnes of tomatoes are said to be wasted following harvest. However, this year’s harvest has been hit by a devastating tomato pest Tuta absoluta. Kaita said most of the tomato farms in Kano, Jigawa, Plateau, Katsina and Kaduna states were affected.
T. absoluta is a species of moth known by the common names tomato leaf miner and South American tomato moth. It has been spreading rapidly across the world from its native South America in recent years. Last year, farmers in some parts of Nigeria recorded total losses as the pest infested their farms. However, with demand for tomatoes not as high as it has become due to industrialization, the effect was not immediately felt. The pest has struck again this year and it may strike again next season.
Kaita had said the tomato processing factory would resume production during the next irrigation season but with T. absoluta continuing its spread, farmers may find it hard to get enough to sell.
The larvae of Tuta absoluta mine the leaves producing large galleries and burrow into the fruit, causing a substantial loss of tomato production. Damage can reach up to 100 percent and occurs throughout the entire growing cycle of tomatoes. To worsen things, the pest has a very high reproduction capability; an adult female could lay hundreds of eggs during her life time. There are also up to 10-12 generations in a year, in favourable conditions. Also, tomato plants can be attacked from seedlings to mature plants.
With its high resistance to several chemicals, Tuta absoluta is very difficult to control. The best bet, according to researchers, is the use of pheromone traps. Other biological controls have also been suggested as possible ways of fighting off the pest.
For Dangote, to ensure the tomato processing factory which cost about $20 million keeps working, the company may need to support farmers in the fight against the pest.
The Dangote tomato processing factory can process 120 tonnes of fresh tomatoes per day at full capacity, saving Nigeria some precious foreign exchange. The country spends N16 billion ($80.4 million) yearly on importing tomatoes.