In May 2016, the invasion of the Tuta absoluta moth was all Nigerians were talking about. The pest, also known as the tomato leafminer, and nicknamed “tomato ebola,” ravaged hundreds of tomato farms in northern Nigeria, where most of the country's tomato crops are located. The episode led to an increase in the price of tomatoes, an important ingredient in local dishes, by a record 400 percent across the country.
While Nigeria is sub-Saharan Africa's biggest tomato producer, generating roughly 1.5 million tonnes annually, its production is not enough to satisfy the national demand – around 2.45 million tonnes per year. Even before the moth struck, the tomato industry needed to find a way to ensure an ample supply.
The pest invasion came on top of pre-existing issues, such as an annual loss of 900,000 tonnes of tomatoes caused by moving produce to faraway urban markets on bad roads, or the lack of a storage system for harvested produce. Drought in parts of northern Nigeria, exacerbated by creeping desertification from the Sahara, has also created problems for tomato farmers. The southern states even ran out of tomatoes for a period of time.
But Alhaji Bello, a fish farmer in Ibadan, 130 km from Lagos, saw these challenges as an opportunity. He had been trained at B.I.C. Farm Concepts, a Lagos-based agribusiness company that specializes in aquaculture, hydroponics, and training small-scale farmers.