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Nigeria’s Latest Enemy? Tomato-Eating Moths.

A moth infestation in Nigeria's tomato plants has increased the price of tomatoes by more than 30-fold.

IJEBU-ODE, NIGERIA - NOVEMBER 03:  A Nigerian woman sells tomatoes and chillies in an Ijebu-Ode market on November 3, 2009 in Ijebu-Ode, Nigeria.  (Photo by Jamie McDonald - FIFA/FIFA via Getty Images)
IJEBU-ODE, NIGERIA - NOVEMBER 03: A Nigerian woman sells tomatoes and chillies in an Ijebu-Ode market on November 3, 2009 in Ijebu-Ode, Nigeria. (Photo by Jamie McDonald - FIFA/FIFA via Getty Images)

Nigerians love tomatoes. They are a non-negotiable ingredient in a number of traditional dishes, most notably in jollof rice — arguably the country’s most famous and delicious meal.

But across the country, a basket of tomatoes now costs more than 30 times its price a few months ago. The culprit?  A fruit-eating moth known as the “tomato leaf miner,” or tuta absoluta, that has destroyed about 80 percent of tomato farms in the country’s northern Kaduna State.

On Monday, the Kaduna government declared a state of emergency over the tomato shortage. By Tuesday, Audu Ogbeh, the Nigerian minister of agriculture and rural development, had announced the central government would send experts north to address the crisis.

Nigerians love tomatoes. They are a non-negotiable ingredient in a number of traditional dishes, most notably in jollof rice — arguably the country’s most famous and delicious meal.

But across the country, a basket of tomatoes now costs more than 30 times its price a few months ago. The culprit?  A fruit-eating moth known as the “tomato leaf miner,” or tuta absoluta, that has destroyed about 80 percent of tomato farms in the country’s northern Kaduna State.

On Monday, the Kaduna government declared a state of emergency over the tomato shortage. By Tuesday, Audu Ogbeh, the Nigerian minister of agriculture and rural development, had announced the central government would send experts north to address the crisis.

Kaduna State Agriculture Commissioner Daniel Manzo Maigari said at a news conference in Kaduna on Monday that 200 farmers have lost $5.1 million in the past month alone. In some parts of the country, a basket of tomatoes can run upwards of $40. A few months ago, it would have cost $1.20. That means fewer customers — and less money for Nigerian tomato farmers.

Ogbeh blamed neighboring Niger for the infestation, saying it arrived in Nigeria from insects that traveled south from the country’s northern neighbor.

“There was nothing the quarantine service could do to stop it from coming into the country as the disease is being carried by insects,” he said.

Regular Nigerians are suffering under the tomato shortage, and last month, Aliko Dangote — Africa’s richest man, with an estimated net worth of nearly $17 billion — stopped production at his tomato paste business in the northern state of Kano. According to him, there were not enough tomatoes coming into his $20 million business to make production worthwhile.

The tomato crisis is the latest setback for the country’s unstable northern region, where Boko Haram terrorists have killed more than thousands of people and displaced millions more in recent years.

The tomato shortage represents a crisis of a different kind, Ogbeh said Tuesday, but is a crisis all the same.

“We also need to educate farmers on how to control the infestation and we also need to raise new nurseries,” he said to a group of local journalists. “The process is much like an immunization program.”

Photo credit: Jamie McDonald/FIFA via Getty Images

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