A tomato blight has caused a state of emergency in northern Nigeria

Under threat.
Under threat.
Image: Reuters/Akintunde Akinleye
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In the past 12 months, Nigeria has suffered from a shrinking economy, a sliding currency, and a prolonged fuel shortage. Now, Africa’s largest economy is facing a food crisis as major tomato fields have been destroyed by a moth, leading to a nationwide shortage and escalating prices.

The moth, Tuta absoluta, has destroyed 80% of farms in Kaduna, Nigeria’s largest tomato-producing state, leading the government there to declare a state of emergency. The moth, also known as the tomato leaf miner, ravages crops by feeding on fruits and burrowing in stalks. It reproduces incredibly quickly, breeding up to 12 generations per year if conditions are favorable. It is believed to have originated in South America in the early 1900s, and later spread to Europe before crossing over to sub-Saharan Africa.

In Nigeria, where tomatoes are a staple of local diets, the moth’s effects are devastating. Retail prices for a handful of tomatoes at local markets have risen from N100 ($0.50) to N500 ($2.50). Farmers are reporting steep losses and a new $20 million tomato-paste factory has halted production due to the shortages.

Given the moth’s ability also to attack crops like pepper and potatoes, Audu Ogbeh, Nigeria’s minister of agriculture, has warned that the pest may “create serious problems for food security” in the country. Ogbeh says experts are investigating how to control the pest’s damage and prevent its spread, which has gone largely unchecked until now.

Despite being the continent’s second-largest producer of tomatoes, Nigeria is dependent on $1 billion worth of tomato-paste imports every year, as around 75% of the local harvest goes to waste thanks to a lack of proper storage facilities. A further reduction in local supplies is yet another unwelcome setback to the industry.