The Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (FMARD) yesterday said it is desperately looking for funding to tackle the current outbreak of the deadly tomato disease, known as Tuta Absoluta, which had already ravaged over 300 hectares of farmland in Kano alone.
Other states affected by the outbreak include Katsina, Kaduna, and Gombe with the possibility of further spread.
Speaking at a media briefing organised by the Nigeria Agri-Business Group (NABG) in partnership with the Dutch-funded HortNigeria Programme, Director, Horticulture, FMARD, Dr. Deola Lordbanjou, estimated the cost of the Tuta Absoluta in Kano alone at about N1.3 billion.
He said amid the current fiscal challenges, the ministry was making efforts to leverage the Tomato Levy Fund in order to respond to the crisis.
Lordbanjou also said the Ministry of Agriculture is currently in talks with the Federal Ministry of Finance to access the levy.
The FMARD director also berated tomato processors in the country for reneging in the backward integration initiative of the federal government.
According to him, the local processors were expected to uptake 50 per cent of locally grown tomatoes as their raw input adding that most of them still imported 100 per cent of raw tomato into the country, stressing that the government is currently looking into the situation.
The President, Nigeria Agri-Business Group (NABG), Chief Emmanuel Ijewere, said the losses incurred from the pest attacks had been unimaginable, pointing out that climate change had enhanced the rate at which plant pests move around the fields as a warm environment helps them to spread wider.
He said though the disease may be restricted to a number of states for now, “they don’t need a visa to go to any other state as long as the conditions are right” adding that the devastation is usually total.
He recalled that many years ago, the country had witnessed the tuta absoluta attack which was devastating.
“And they are attacking us at a time our economy is so weak,” he said.
Ijewere, said to avoid a repeat of the devastation caused by the tomato disease to smallholder farmers particularly as seen in 2016, it was imperative for key stakeholders to collaborate and harness resources needed to address the issues early and reduce the negative consequences that will be felt across the value chain- from the farmer to consumer.
Director-General, NABG, Mr. Manzo Maigari, added that farmers in affected states will have the benefit of demonstration of strategies for containment and prevention by technical officers in the field.
On his part, Executive Director, National Horticultural Research Institute (NIHORT), Dr. Mohammed Attanda, said in response to the current outbreak, the institute has developed sustainable environmentally friendly Integrated Management Packages which include biopesticide to effectively kill the egg and the damaging larvae of Tuta and Tuta Trap Tray which kill adult Tuta.
He said the institute had successfully demonstrated and trained farmers on the use of the technologies in Kano, Kaduna, Katsina, Jigawa and Plateau states as well as engaged in enlightenment programmes through the mass media in affected states.
Represented by his aide, Mr. Abiola Oladigbolu, the NIHORT boss recommended that FMARD should incorporate NIHORT sustainable tuta integrated management package for tomato production in the national tomato policy to stem the tide of the occurrence.
Among other things, he said tomato farmers should endeavour to use NIHORT Tuta integrated management package rather than the current reliance and indiscriminate application of synthetic pesticides.
On his part, National Secretary of National Tomato Growers, Processors and Marketers Association of Nigeria (NAPTAN), Alhaji Sani Danladi, said farmers are already counting their losses occasioned by the pest attack.
Essentially, Tuta Absoluta, moth family specie, is a destructive pest that destroyed many tomato farms in Nigeria in 2015.
The loss of yields led to scarcity and an increase in the cost of tomatoes a daily vegetable staple for most Nigerian families leading households to use less nutritious alternatives.