Muni Muniappan, an entomologist and expert in pest management at Virginia Tech, says the near total destruction of Nigeria’s tomato crop caused by Tuta absoluta, also known as the South American tomato leaf miner, is the latest precursor to the devastating pest’s likely arrival in the United States.
“There’s no silver bullet for Tuta. An invasion is irreversible; we can’t eradicate it. But we can control it, and we need to use every means at our disposal.”
“We must establish relationships with locals, share data, and collaborate. It is crucial that we educate growers – they see things first, and they have the most to lose.”
“If it does attack some of the major growing areas, there will be a reduction in tomato production. The U.S.A. is quite concerned about this pest. So the U.S. has already introduced a regulation asking these countries wherein the pest has presented, that if these countries plan to export tomatoes to the U.S. that they should remove the stock and the green material on the top of the fruit before they pack it and ship it to the U.S.”
Tuta absoluta facts:
- Also known as the South American tomato leaf miner, it is native to South America but spread to Spain in 2006.
- By 2010, Tuta had spread throughout Europe and the Mediterranean, and by 2013 it had spread into parts of West and East Africa. In November of 2014, it crossed the Arabian Sea and reached India. In 2016, Tuta entered Nigeria.
- A female leaf miner will lay about 260 eggs in a 30-40 day lifetime. The eggs stick to the underside of tomato leaves and stems. After hatching, the larvae eat the plant. They then drop to the ground, pupate, and start the whole process over again.
- Tuta can reduce crop yields by 80-100% on tomato farms.
Dr. Muni Muniappan is the director of the Integrated Pest Management Innovation Lab at Virginia Tech. He is an entomologist who has specialized in biological control and integrated pest management research in the tropics for more than 35 years. As a major leader in his field, he has led multiple workshops on Tuta absoluta and the IPM Innovation Lab currently has a project to model the spread of Tuta using human movement.
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