In this interview, Alhaji Abdullahi Ringim, the national president of Tomato Out-growers Association of Nigeria (TOGAN), speaks on the recent tomato pest attack, known as TutaAbsoluta, among other issues.
People are still trying to understand what TutaAbsoluta is; from your perspective as a farmer, what is your understanding of the pest?
TutaAbsoluta, otherwise referred to by farmers as tomato ebola, is one of the most devastating pests affecting tomato crops worldwide. The pests thrive during the hot temperature of 33 to 40 degrees, and that is between April and May.
The pest usually manifests at night and in the morning the whole farm will be wiped out by the pest rendering the farmer at loss completely. The pest has been so devastated that many of our members are presently out of business completely.
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How would you describe the recent pest attack on tomato farms this season?
As I have said earlier, the attack has been so devastating, to the extent that farmers’ lost billions of naira. The association had estimated a loss of N1.3 billion to N1.7 billion within a short period of five to seven days.
It is unfortunate that a lot of tomato farmers were involved in these losses. Some of our members are in a very pathetic situation and in dire need of assistance to forge ahead. It is unfortunate that the pest attacked when farmers began to enjoy the fruits of their labour.
Some of our members have had their incomes completely wiped out, while some that were able to make some little harvest before the attack have a little income to fall back on.
What is your association doing to its members and against the pest attack?
We just had a meeting with stakeholders from the Federal Ministry of Agriculture, where we offered some recommendations to the government. We have recommended short term, medium term and long term strategies to address the issue.
Part of the short term strategy is that we have requested from the government, an immediate relief package for our affected members. On the association’s part, data of all the farmers and their affected farms will be provided for effective and even distribution of the relief package when it comes.
However, we have recommended that the relief package must not be in terms of money; it can also be in terms of inputs. We also recommended that there should be an effective sensitisation on pest prevention and control because we have figured out that most tomato farmers lack the technical skills to prevent, manage and control the pest when it attacks.
What do you think would effectively address the reoccurrence of the pest attack?
As I said earlier, there should be a robust sensitisation and rapid response to the attack when it happens. There should also be an active involvement of all stakeholders on the matter. There has to be an effective soil review in terms of pesticide applications.
The use of effective pest resistance variety will also assist in tackling the menace of the pest, as well as having well calculated and organised planting processes in a season. This will allow for reduction in the spread of the pest.
There is also the need to have more processing plants within the country to allow for easy processing and avoid glut.
How would you describe government’s intervention on the recent pest attack?
The association commends the Federal Ministry of Agriculture for the concern they have shown to the plight of tomato farmers, as well as their attempt to address the matter as it happens. However, the ministry has set up a technical team that will articulate the issue raised and proffer solutions to them.
What is the association’s response to the recent tomato policy?
The policy has been a very good initiative to boost local tomato production, as well as encourage tomato farmers. Tomato farmers have worked tirelessly to have the policy approved, but importers of tomato paste have been doing all they could to see that the policy failed.
Unfortunately, the Federal Government of Nigeria decided to approve the importation of tomato paste into the country, and this move has been one of the worst issues happening to tomato production in the country. Our members received the information with nostalgia; and we are still protesting this move.