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Pests invade tomato fields

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Two voracious tomato pests commonly known as the tomato leaf miner and tomato fruit worm have attacked tomato fields in five of the country’s 28 districts.

The pests which experts say are new to Malawi are a threat to tomato production considering their capability to wipe out hectares of tomato fields.

Confirming the attack, Ministry of Agriculture spokesperson Hamilton Chimala said a survey is underway to establish the extent and severity of the problem.

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One of the pests, the tomato leaf miner, is said to be high resistant pest to control with the commonly used insecticides and can also other crops like pepper and Irish potatoes.

The pest which recently affected six of Nigerian’s top tomato producing states has a cost effect on farmers and buyers following its 50-10 percent yield reduction on tomato crops, according to tutaabsoluta.com.

The larva of the pest attacks the leaves of tomatoes feeding and producing galleries on them.

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Tomato leaf miner also consumes green and ripe fruits, consequently causing a grave or total loss in yield.

“The actual caterpillars which destroy tomato leaves and fruits live inside these plant parts and what people see are just damage signs i.e. scorched leaves, withering plants and black spots on fruits,” said Chimala indicating that Karonga, Rumphi and Mzimba are among the areas affected.

In Rumphi, the pests have affected tomato crop in Mphompha and Mhoju Extension Planning areas.

Farmers in Thyolo and Chiradzulu also confirmed the invasion by the tomato fruit worm.

The farmers in Thyolo and Chiradzulu we spoke to lamented the inaction by agriculture officials on the pests.

Charles William of Namitambo in Chiradzulu said he lost K60, 000 in investment in tomato business.

Almost 5000 trees, he said of ripe tomatoes have been wiped out in his field.

“I invested my all in this business with all the hope that tomato will give us the income we need for our family. The money realised from the sale could have made a difference but all that is in vain,” said William.

Another farmer Margaret Chejula who lives near Nyodola Primary School in Thyolo said she invested close to K40, 000 in fertiliser and pesticides but nothing has come out of the fields following the attack by the pests.

Chiradzulu District Agriculture Development Officer (Dado) Sheila Kang’ombe said all the 28,000 hectares that are under tomato production in the district are under attack.

“The pest was noticed some time early in September but it was a little late for it to be controlled because once it goes inside the tomato fruit, chemicals can no longer reach it,” said Kang’ombe.

Thyolo District Agriculture Development Officer (Dado) Raphael Mkisi said the district has been hit by both tomato leaf miner and fruit worm.

He however said fruit worm is the most worrying considering the extent of the damage.

“The worm is attacking the tomato fruit at larvae stage and works their way through the entire tomato,” said Mkisi

He said the worm was discovered some time in August in Matapwata, Dwale and Thyolo EPA where farmers complained through plant clinics.

Close to 40 hectares of tomato has been affected. The Dado believes they might have been caused in part by the non-compliance of the farmers to good agricultural practices including crop rotation and poor source of seeds.

Mkisi also suspected the worm might have mutated.

“No matter what kind of chemical you apply, the worm cannot be killed using any chemical available,” said Mkisi.

Chimala said a survey is underway to establish the severity of the problem.

“Through the Department of Agricultural Research Services (DARS), the ministry is sensitising farmers, extension workers and other stakeholders in the districts where the pest was found how it can be managed. DARS is evaluating some pesticides for the control of the pest,” said Chimala.

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