Tomato leaf miner: Pongola farmers’ strategy to beat the pest

The Pongola of today is far different from what it was in the 1980s. Back then, vegetable farms stretched to the horizon, supplying a wide variety of produce to the area’s markets. Gradually, however, producers began to replace their vegetable crops with sugar cane, as they found the latter far easier to manage.

Today, while sugar cane remains the predominant crop in Pongola, it, in turn, is under threat of replacement by macadamias. Brothers Sakkie and André Terblanche have combined the old with the new: their farm, on the outskirts of town, has tomato and sugar cane fields, as well as recently planted macadamia orchards. For them, staying the course with vegetables made business sense, as Basaki Boerdery (Basaki) is one of only three tomato producers in the area, which ensures that they have a stable market.

Lately, however, they haven’t been able to keep up with demand, as tomato leaf miner (Tuta absoluta) is threatening to destroy their livelihood. “We started noticing leaf miner in our tomato crops around 2014,” says Sakkie. “Up until then, we had to contend with the normal pests and diseases known to affect tomatoes, such as blight and red spider mite, but they were manageable.

“But with Tuta, we found that we couldn’t stay ahead. It takes you out quickly, so you need to act fast. Prior to 2014, Basaki planted seven plots of 7ha each of tomatoes, and these were replanted every 34 weeks. This allowed for a continuous harvest over the 34-week period, yielding between 80t/ha and 100t/ha.

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