A state government in northern Nigeria has declared a state of emergency after moths destroyed swaths of tomato fields, threatening supplies of the country’s leading staple food.
Nigerian farmers describe the outbreak as “tomato Ebola” after the deadly disease that devastated west Africa in 2014.
The news from Kaduna state saw Nigerians voice fears on social media they would not be able to make jollof rice – a beloved national dish made with tomato paste – because of the scarcity.
Tomato prices have shot up as a result of the moth Tuta absoluta, adding to existing hardships from a 67% rise in the price of petrol and soaring inflation in Africa’s largest economy.
We have declared a state of emergency over the outbreak of a moth that has destroyed over 80% of tomato farms in the state,” the Kaduna state agriculture commissioner, Manzo Daniel, told AFP.
The tomato shortage caused by the outbreak has caused prices to go up “astronomically”, he added.
A wholesale basket containing hundreds of tomatoes now sells for 42,000 naira ($212), up from 300 ($1.50) to 1,500 naira ($7.50) before the outbreak, he said.
“This is only the beginning of a disaster if we don’t take drastic measures because the disease is fast spreading across the north,” he warned.
More than 200 tomato farmers in the region have already suffered losses of more than 1bn naira ($5.02m) from the disease, he said.
Experts have been sent to Kenya to develop a strategy to combat the brown moth, which lays eggs on tomato plants and develops into a hungry caterpillar that feeds on the leaves, stems and fruit.
More than 90% of 17,000 hectares (42,000 acres) of tomato fields outside the northern city of Kano have been destroyed by the insect, according to the state’s agriculture officials.
A $200m tomato processing factory built by Nigerian billionaire Aliko Dangote has been forced to shut down because of the shortfall in supply, its managing director, Abdulkareem Kaita, said.
Tuta absoluta, which originated in South America and spread to Europe and Africa, quickly develops resistance to pesticides, making it difficult to contain.