Beware: Tomato Ebola returns

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… Nigeria to lose N25bn to neighbouring countries

BY Steve Agbota styvenchy@yahoo.com 08033302331

it was exactly this period last year that consumers of fresh tomatoes and farmers across Nigeria were hit by severe scarcity of tomato from major markets in the country resulting to a switch to the use of tomato pastes due to the outbreak of Tuta Absoluta disease popularly known as Tomato Ebola.

After so much noise made by stakeholders on how to tackle the menace and the Federal Government, through the Federal Ministry of Agriculture, promise to curb the crisis, the disease is back and ravaging tomato farms across the country, especially in the northern part of Nigeria.

Currently, the pest’s invasion has spread across tomato farmlands in Akko, Kwami and Yamaltu-Deba Local Government Areas of Gombe State, which might cause Nigeria to lose up to N25 billion to neighbouring West African countries, like Senegal and Cameroon who are now bringing in fresh fruits and vegetables to sell via land boarders in Lagos, Ogoja, Adamawa and Borno between the months of May, June, July and August in particular.

Daily Sun learnt that a big basket of tomatoes, which previously cost N7,000 and N10,000 in Mile 12 Market a month ago, now goes for N28,000, which is an increase of 300 per cent while the price of small basket which was N2,500 and N3,000, now sells for N10,000. Experts predicted that a big basket of tomato may hit N80,000 and the small one may go for N45,000 if proactive measure is not taken to eradicate the disease.

However, many fresh tomato sellers have also resorted to purchasing the produce from neighbouring countries, especially the Republic of Benin and Cameroon, in an effort to bridge the shortfall in Nigeria despite being ranked 13th largest producer of tomato in the world and the second after Egypt in Africa, which experts say would cost Nigeria about N25 billion loss in revenue since stakeholders and government failed to prevent a recurrence of the moths that ravaged tomato farms last year.

Stakeholders said already Nigeria is losing N72 billion annually, particularly for the tomato crop, which suffers a 40 per cent loss, between farm gate and market due to post-harvest losses and wastage. This, they say, is owing to poor transportation network, poor handling practices and lack of storage facilities, especially in the North where the commodity is being produced in large quantity. They said Nigeria couldn’t meet local demand because government, over the years, it has failed when it comes to providing storage facilities for farm produce in the country.

Experts warned that the tomato Ebola, which travels and breeds in swarms and has a reputation for swiftly ravaging tomato cultivation in a little above 48 hours, could spread to other local government areas in the affected state and even to other states in the North if preventive care is not taken.

Recently, the Gombe State Agricultural Development Project (ADP) announced that the tomato pest, Tuta Absoluta, has seriously affected tomato harvests in three of the state’s 11 local government areas.

The Pest Control Officer of the Gombe ADP, Abba Dreba, said if proactive measures are not taken, tomato farmers would divert their attention to other crops because Tuta Absoluta is very devastating. Speaking with Daily Sun, Prof. Ahmed Ala, from the Department of Agriculture Economic, Usman Danfodio University, Sokoto, blamed government for not providing adequate extension services system that will be on ground all the time to prevent and report any disease or pest outbreak in the country.

He added: “There are a number of issues; one, we look at it one side and also from the government side because basically, it is supposed to provide a lot of things. When you look at extension service, it is very poor and our extension agents who are supposed to be the ones on ground, in the sense that once they see any problem, whether it is a disease or pest issue, whatever it is, they are the people that should immediately report it.

“Looking at the extension farmer ratio, it is not enough compared to the number of farmers who need their services and even the extension staff that we have are no more working as some have retired and even those that have been there have not been getting adequate payment and training. So you find that the government needs to do a lot about our extension system if we want to ensure that when we have outbreak of disease or pest, we do something before it excalated.”

He said the Soil Protection Department in the Federal Ministry of Agriculture is not doing much in terms of ensuring that it has chemicals that can solve the issue at hand when it happens. He said once the government agency does not have much chemicals at hand and it is only when there is outbreak of disease or pest it starts to think of how and where to get these chemicals, which might not even be in the country, tackling the menace will be a difficult task.

He explained that, “we need to make sure that the chemicals we need to forestall pests and diseases are available. Moreover, we had this kind of problem last year, this time we should be fully alert and make sure that these chemicals are around so that immediately we have this kind of issue, we will mobilise quickly.

“The case of meningitis in the North took everybody by surprise, it was after it has eaten deep that the government started thinking of buying drugs and embarking on massive vaccination. As a result, we need to be alert and make sure we buy all the necessary chemicals needed in case of any outbreak of disease or pest attack. You also find out that the farmers need to be well sensitised on this issue. Even if it means using local means to educate them, do it. These are areas the government has not really done enough here.”

He said there is need to ensure that farmers are sensitised and educated so that once there is an outbreak of disease, they know what to do. He also harped on the need to replace the extension staff, adding that once these are done, the menace of outbreak of disease or any pest attack would be curtailed.

Meanwhile, the Deputy Managing Director of Peniel Gerard International Limited, Ojiefoh Enahoro Martins, said that agric extension service is lacking and 80 per cent of Nigerian farmers are not educated on new dynamics and solutions to agriculture. He stated that government refuses to start from the basics and the old ways of operating is still fighting agric production because agriculture is not all about sowing and harvest but sustainable agric is the best way.

On how to prevent further recurrence of the tomato Ebola, he recommended that mass trap monitoring should be placed according to the label instructions of pheromones and should be positioned not more than one metre above ground level and should be distributed uniformly in the field.

He further said there is need for training and retraining of young agriculturists in extension service and setting up extension service centres in villages to empower farmers.


10,000 Nigerians to benefit from MSU, MasterCard Foundation’s $13m agric project

A five-year, $13 million collaboration between Michigan State University and the MasterCard Foundation has been launched in Lagos to help 15,000 young people access employment and entrepreneurship opportunities in the fast-growing horticulture, aquaculture, poultry, cassava and oilseed sectors in Nigeria and Tanzania.

The initiative is targeting over 10,000 Nigerians and 5,000 Tanzanians to benefit from the agro project, an indication that Nigeria will receive the lion’s share of the $13 million devoted for the project.

The partnership, the AgriFood Youth Opportunity Lab, will focus on youth ages 18 to 24 in major food shed regions surrounding Lagos and Dar es Salaam.  The Ag Youth Lab will assist economically disadvantaged, hard-to-reach and out-of-school youths transition into employment and entrepreneurship opportunities in the agrifood system.

MSU President Lou Anna K. Simon said: “Working with the MasterCard Foundation and African partners to address one of the most critical problems facing the continent—youth unemployment—reflects how we pursue MSU’s global vision. We see great potential to expand youth agrifood employment both on and off the farm.”

More than 60 per cent of Africa’s young people are jobless or underemployed, and formal job creation efforts in Africa’s growing economies have been insufficient, according to African Economic Outlook. Comprising 20 percent of Africa’s population, Tanzania and Nigeria together represent an important opportunity for intervention in skills acquisition, job creation and employment for youth.

Meanwhile, President and CEO of The MasterCard Foundation, Reeta Roy said: “This partnership with Michigan State University is an excellent example of using evidence to address youth unemployment. By engaging the private sector to develop business opportunities for young people, the project also addresses some of the challenges youths face in seeking work.”

The programme will have a special focus on gender equity, aiming for equal representation of young men and women across its programs and addressing policy, training, mentoring and other constraints that affect the ability of young women to start enterprises or obtain employment.

The Ag Youth Lab will respond directly to opportunities and constraints identified in the 2016 MSU and The MasterCard Foundation-Agrifood Youth Employment and Engagement Study (AgYees).


Lagos acquires 500 hectares for farm estate, compensates communities

Lagos State government has paid five communities in Eluju-mowo along Itoikin-Epe Road crop compensation for the 500 hectares of their farmland acquired by government for Farm Estate Initiative (FEI).

Speaking at a cheque presentation ceremony to representatives of the affected communities at Ministry of Agriculture, at Ikeja, the Special Adviser to the Lagos State Governor on Food Security, Mr. Ganiyu Okanlawon Sanni, said the payment of crop compensation was in fulfillment of the promise made by the state government to residents of the communities.

According to him, acquiring the lands and payment of crop compensation was subsequent to the effort of the government to address the various challenges facing agriculture in the state such as declining land for agricultural activities, encroachment by land speculators as well as promoting the utilisation of agricultural land for its intended purposes.

He said the effort is also geared towards boosting food security in the state, adding that the lands in these communities will be allocated to farmers after the payment of crop compensation. He added that the move by the state government is aimed at the commercialisation of the agriculture sector and a drastic move from subsistent farming to a high mechanised farming.

He stated that farm activities on the acquired land will be fully equipped with modern farming implements to boost the output of agricultural produce, adding that the state government also recently commissioned an Agricultural Equipment Hiring Centre, which has been put in place to complement the state-owned functional agricultural implement unit.

“The Agricultural Equipment Hiring Centre is targeted towards providing mechanised tools at a reduced rate to farmers.The initiative has been set to reduce drudgery in agriculture, increase farmland under cultivation, promote competition and enhance the value of money for farmers.”

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