'Tomato crisis' spreads panic in Nigeria

Nigeria's 'Tomato Emergency'
Nigeria's 'Tomato Emergency'

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    Nigeria's 'Tomato Emergency'

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Nigeria's 'Tomato Emergency' 01:06

Story highlights

  • A moth is destroying tomato plantations in Nigeria
  • The price of a single tomato has gone up to $2 in some markets
  • The disease has been called 'Tomato Ebola' by locals

(CNN)Making jollof rice, a beloved traditional dish in Nigeria, has suddenly become very expensive.

Tomatoes, one of its main ingredients and a staple of Nigerian cuisine, are going for $2 each at local markets, with wholesale baskets costing as much as N42,000, or $212, Kaduna state agriculture commissioner Manzo Daniel told AFP.
    The culprit is a moth called Tuta absoluta, which has destroyed crops in the northern Kaduna state, forcing the local government to declare a state of emergency.
    "It is a serious problem. The disease has affected production and consumption, prices are continuing to rise and there is no availability," Shehu Sani, Senator for Kaduna Central, told CNN.
    The area, which contributes strongly to Nigeria's overall production, has already seen losses of millions of dollars, according to Sani.
    "Many depend on tomato farming for their livelihood and tomatoes are an indispensable part of the diet. People cannot do without them," he said.
    The tomato crisis come on the heels of a recent fuel shortage and a general rise in commodity prices due to inflation and a lack of foreign currency.

    'Tomato Ebola'

    In local towns, the problem has been labeled 'Tomato Ebola.'
    "People are panicking, because attaching that name to a staple food has worsened the situation," said Sani.
    Even those who can afford to buy find it difficult to trust any tomato product, and some have started buying imported tinned tomatoes.
    "Nobody knows now which tomatoes are safe to eat and some people are avoiding them altogether."

    Local production goes to waste

    Nigeria is Africa's second largest producer of tomatoes with over 1.5 million tons harvested, but due to poor storage and transport infrastructure, a significant portion of the crop never makes it to market.
    Therefore, the country relies on imports to satisfy demand: the United Nations Environment Programme recently stated that $1 billion is spent yearly to import tomato paste, while 75 percent of the local harvest goes to waste.
    A new production facility in the northern city of Kano was opened recently as part of the efforts to tackle the problem, but was forced to shut down earlier in May due to lack of supply.
    "We need assistance from the central federal government to prevent the disease from spreading further and maybe even to other countries," said Sani.

    Meanwhile, in Spain...

    Nigerians have taken to Twitter to lament the situation, pointing out in playful disbelief that while they have to pay dearly for tomatoes, at an annual festival in Spain they are wasted for fun.
    The next 'La Tomatina' festival isn't due until August, but by then Nigerians hope they'll have gone back to tomato-normality.