Democratic Socialist Movement

For Struggle, Solidarity and Socialism in Nigeria

By - DSM

TOMATO EBOLA: Poor Funding of Agriculture Responsible for Outbreak

TOMATO EBOLA: Poor Funding of Agriculture Responsible for Outbreak

By Eko John Nicholas

The recent scarcity of tomatoes across the country, and the consequent astronomical increment in the prices of the crop, due to the ravaging attacks of a pest, known as tomato leaf miner, was made possible by the neglects and poor funding of agriculture by successive governments at all levels.

The destructive pest, a flying insect called moth, belongs to the family Gelechiidae, is scientifically known as Tula absoluta. It attacks the crop by boring into the fruits and stems of the tomato plant. The high virulence of the disease for swiftly ravaging tomato cultivations in less than 72 hours and the attendant huge losses in the yields to farmers explain the appellation Tomato Ebola. The insect is very prolific reproducing between 10-12 times in a year, in tranches of 250-300 young ones, within 28 days. The disease which is highly resistance could affect pepper and Irish potato if not properly controlled.

The disease ravaged tomato cultivations across states in northern part of the country, like Kaduna, Kano and Katsina where over 40% of the crop have been destroyed. Other states in the north including Jigawa and Nasarawa were also affected. Northern parts of the country produce the bulk of tomatoes consumed in the country. The southern states of Lagos, Ogun and Oyo were also not left out.

The neglect by government at all levels has meant that little or no efforts was devoted to curtailing the menace of the disease, and the poor tomato farmers that are largely affected suffered unquantifiable losses. The poor small holding farmers account for over 85% of tomato cultivations in the country. But they are mainly devoid of government supports and financial investments. This inevitably made the tomato farmer’s vulnerability possible to the vagaries of pests and diseases, weather conditions, climatic change, poor storage facilities, post harvest losses, poor transportation, poor productivity etc. All these resulted in poor yields and drastic reduction of tomatoes supply from the north; its attendant scarcity and the roof top prices.

Tomatoes are a major vegetable staple food in the country. The scarcity and high cost, price it out the reach of the poor masses. A basket of tomatoes which previously sold between N5000-N8000 went for N17, 000 and N20, 000 respectively. The anti-poor capitalist policies of the past and the present governments at all levels regardless of party affiliations mean that the government starves agriculture of needed public funds, at the expense of over 75% of poor farmers which constitute the entire farming population. This category of farmers cultivates over 90% of the food consumed locally.

This also explains why government would import experts and insecticides from AgroNet from UK spending scarce Forex. This would not have been necessary if the government had funded the National Research Institute for Chemical Technology (NARICT), which has enough manpower and expertise to develop herbicides and insecticides to combat the menace of weeds, and of pests and diseases like Tula absoluta. At the same time such funding would have helped build screen houses for tomato cultivations to prevent pest attacks.

It is the same capitalist logic of helping a few rich to exploit the poor majority, that informed government decisions to support and encourage multinational companies and their local counterparts like Russell IPM, a UK based company, and Dansa Agro Allied Product Ltd, who had just commissioned processing factories in Kano. It would be more rewarding for the government to massively invest in agriculture including directly setting up agro processing factories to guaranteeing employment, food security, and exports of finished agro goods and earnings of foreign exchange.

Science and technology have developed means and techniques to prevent or tackle the epidemics like the outbreak of tomato ebola and thereby guarantee food security. It is the profit-first capitalist system that has made this impossible or difficult especially in neo-colonial economies like Nigeria. It is only socialism where the needs of the society, rather than private profit, form the basis of production that science and technology can be used for the benefit of all. This is why the demand of the working people and poor farmers for massive investment in agriculture must be linked with struggle for a mass working peoples political alternative on socialist program.