Malawi government through the Ministry of Agriculture has warned tomato traders and farmers to properly dispose tomatoes that have been infested with the Tuta absoluta, a pest that is destroying the tomato crop in the country.
In a statement signed by Secretary for Agriculture, Irrigation and Water Development, Erica Maganga, the Ministry has advised farmers, traders and consumers to follow Integrated Pest Management practices to stop the disease from spreading.
“There are a number of ways how the pest is spread but most importantly, the adult moth flies from one place to another and are assisted to cover longer distances by the wind.
“The caterpillars are spread through movement of infected plants or fruits, with fruits being the most common and fast method of spreading the pest to far and wide places,” Maganga said.
Maganga has asked farmers and traders to bury in soil all tomato fruits infested with the pest not just throwing them to avoid the caterpillars in the fruits from developing into adult moths which can later get into the fields.
“In the fields where infestation is sporadic, farmers must pluck the infested leaves and bury them in the soil so that the caterpillars in the leaves die thereby suppressing the population of the pest in the fields.
“Farmers should also desist from getting tomato seedlings from their fellow farmers as they might not know whether the seedlings are already infested or not,” Maganga said.
She encouraged farmers to not transplant infested tomato seedlings because it helps to spread the pest.
“Infected seedlings must be uprooted and buried or burnt while heavily infested nurseries must have all plants uprooted and burnt or buried altogether.
“Where the pest has been identified, they should spray their tomato with Abamectin spinosad or Imidacloprid and please handle pesticides with care since they are harmful to human and livestock,” she added.
She appealed to farmers to contact or report to Agricultural Extension Development Coordinators or Agricultural Research Stations if they are not sure of the pest attacking their crop.
Tuta absoluta adults pests, are small pale grey moths butterflies while its young ones which actually destroy tomato are small green caterpillars. The moths lay their eggs on tomato leaves where they hatch into caterpillars. The caterpillars destroy tomato crops by mining leaves and burrowing into the tomato fruits and stems, according to the ministry.
The outbreak has led to scarcity of tomatoes in the country resulting to high prices of the low quality tomato that is being sold while big food stores like Shoprite and Superior Food market are allegedly importing the tomatoes from South Africa.—Mana