Time for action
AVRDC co-hosts a sensitization workshop on Tuta absoluta with the Tanzanian Horticultural Association (TAHA) in Arusha, Tanzania
A workshop to inform and educate government and private sector partners on the South American tomato leaf miner, Tuta absoluta, and establish an action plan to address the current infestation in the region was held on 26 January 2016 at AVRDC Eastern and Southern Africa in Arusha, Tanzania. Tuta is a recent arrival in East Africa and it poses serious threats to vegetable producers, especially tomato growers.
A species of moth originating in South America, Tuta has now spread to many parts of the world. Tomato is its main host plant but it is known to attack other crop plants in the nightshade family, including potato. It is a dangerous pest that can damage tomatoes at all developmental stages. Females reproduce rapidly, laying up to 260 eggs in their lifecycle, resulting in up to 12 generations in one year. Due to this high reproductive rate, it can cause up to 100% loss of tomato fruits if left uncontrolled.
The workshop was attended by dignitaries including the Honorable Mr. Affan Maalim, Permanent Secretary for the Ministry of Agriculture and Natural Resources Zanzibar and Mr. Beatus Malema Agricultural Officer, Ministry of Agriculture and Natural Resources. The event was widely covered in local print and broadcast media and was an important step in the work to manage Tuta.
AVRDC Entomologist Srinivasan Ramasamy presented the ongoing integrated pest management research the center is conducting to manage Tuta. The research focuses on cultural and biological control methods, particularly pheromone traps and entomopathogenic fungi. These are microbes that are commercially available and may hold great promise in controlling this pest. The Center is also developing resistant tomato varieties. Srini responded to questions from farmers and traders who identified the rise in tomato prices and other negative effects they believe Tuta is causing, and he highlighted the need to work closely with farmers to effectively manage Tuta. “As of now, farmers do not have any single effective control measure to manage this pest,” he said.
Research assistant Never Mwambela led a tour of the labs and fields where the research is being undertaken. “Raising awareness of Tuta is important,” she said. “Our guests have observed new and environmentally friendly control methods. Many farmers are using harmful chemical pesticides that are not successful in controlling Tuta. They are mistaking Tuta for other insects and applying the wrong pesticides. I have been approached by many people today who are now saying they want to investigate biological control options.”
TAHA’s CEO Jacqueline Mkindi emphasized the need to act quickly. “If you look at how Tuta has affected our farmers, the threat is significant,” she said. “We are coming together because time is of the essence.” All participants agreed that Tuta poses big problems and were happy to contribute to the discussion on what can be done. By the end of the day a draft plan was produced, with concrete action points to ensure East African farmers can continue to grow tomato, a popular and profitable crop.
Story and photos: Rhiannon O’Sullivan, Thomas Dubois, Srinivasan Ramasamy