Mufutau Animasaun, a doctorate degree holder in horticulture with emphasis on post-harvest pathology from Writtle College, University of Essex, England, and a former Lagos State Commissioner for Agriculture, Cooperatives and Rural Development, speaks on the soil-borne pest currently afflicting the production of tomato across the country.
Presently, fruits and vegetable farms in Nigeria are afflicted by tuta-absoluta, locally known as Tomato Ebola. Can you explain what tuta absoluta is, how it attacks vegetables and what is needed to stop its spread?
Tuta-absoluta is an intelligent insect that has a distinctive survival instinct, it’s a pest that destroys tomato crops and it has been prevalent in this country for 50 years , but just discovered few years back. The attention is just coming up now because of the intensity of the attack. It is a soil-borne pest that feeds on tomato, garden egg, aubergine, potato and tobacco plants. The pest spreads very quickly, it has a high reproductive potential and a life cycle of between 24 to 76 days, depending on environmental conditions. Adults are silvery gray with black spots on the forewings . Their activity is concentrated in the early morning and dusk; during the rest of the day they remain hidden among the leaves. Adult lifespan ranges between 10 and 15 days for females and 6–7 days for males. The female lays the eggs mainly on the leaves, although they can also be found on stems and sepals. Eggs are laid isolated, thus facilitating their distribution on the crop. The number of eggs per female is usually between 40 and 50 and may reach 260. I think we need to deploy different approaches to solving the problem. First is the approach of attacking the insect itself at the reproduction stages. It’s not only about attacking at the point of attack, but also killing the egg before hatching, that is completely wiping it off from our farm land nationwide. We need an entomologist report to identify the specie of the pest, because it’s possible that the specie that can survive in Kano and Kaduna might not survive in Jos and Yola because of the varied temperature. That means we have to develop many approaches. The second approach is to identify which stage of the lifecycle that attacks the fruits because I know that it’s a moth that reproduces twelve times a year and it can be terminated before it matures to the age that attacks the fruit. The third is the pesticide method: though some experts have suggested the use of pesticides, we have to be very careful; some pesticides are systemic, you intend to control the insects but the tomatoes can take it up and when eaten fresh can be carcinogenic and cause harm to the human body.
What is the meaning of carcinogenic?
It means it causes cancer; so we have to be very careful. An expert suggested that we use the protocol of insecticide which means once you use one insecticide today, tomorrow you use another one, it’s dangerous because it means the insect can even develop resistance to that protocol. Another approach is the biological approach, that is, finding parasites that feed on the insects.
If you are getting the parasites to feed on them, how then do you bring a contact?
You have to study the lifecycle of that insect and know the stage it uses to attack the fruits, and send the parasite during this stage to kill it out rightly and study the parasite so that it would not be injurious to the plant, so you know it’s a two-way approach so as not to bring about another problem to the plant itself.
What should the government do to have an all encompassing proactive approach to protecting our food and crops?
The most lacking thing in crop harvest in this country is post-harvest technology, management and packaging. These are very essential and important in any nations agricultural growth. This is what gives the developed economies an edge over us. They believe in technology and spend money on research.You can’t import a technology that was made for a country with different climate to a country that has a very strong climate. I am an ardent preacher of environmental reality.Any problem in this country has its own solution here and not a borrowed solution that might solve the problem temporarily.
What do mean?
I am saying that I can solve this ‘Tomato Ebola’ outbreak locally in synergy with other indigenous plant protection experts. I did my doctorate degree thesis on post-harvest pathology. I spent every day of my life for six years researching on different fruits and vegetables pathology. We do not need dollars or pounds to solve this problem. We are blessed in this country with world class brains.As a Nigerian I won the best oral presentation at the 2nd All African Horticulture Congress (AAHC) held in South-Africa. We had participants in that event from all over the world.So why should a foreigner import his country’s technology that has zero percent of my environmental component? It can’t work.