Little Moth, Big Problem

As reported by the New York Times, Tuta absoluta, also known as the tomato leaf miner, is a small moth originally from Chile that is now wreaking havoc on farmers’ tomato crops around the world. Until 2006, the moth was mainly located throughout South America. Then, it was introduced to Europe in an infested shipment of tomatoes in Spain. From there, it spread throughout Europe and into Africa and Asia. These moths are capable of completely destroying entire crops of tomatoes, eating the leaves, fruits, flowers, and stems of the plants. Thankfully, there are ways to control the tomato leaf miner through the use of an integrated pest management program.

Numerous specialized tactics have been generated to control the devastation brought on by Tuta absoluta. One of the main tactics used against the moth is through the use of pheromones. These pheromones are used to lure the moths into traps to kill them; they are also used to disrupt mating of the insects, so the population does not continue to grow. Specialized pesticides are also being used. Some of them are biopesticides that are based on specific bacteria, fungi, and oils, which help to more selectively kill the leaf miner. Others are highly selective chemical pesticides. One of the most effective methods of dealing with the tomato leaf miners is introducing its natural enemies to significantly cut down the population. Unfortunately, even with these strategies, many countries are still suffering ill effects from the moth. The reason is that they do not have the money to support an integrated pest management program.

In developing countries around the world, the tomato leaf miner is posing serious threats to tomato crops, as well as eggplants, peppers, and potatoes. In northern Nigeria, tomatoes are one of the main staple crops, so when the moth made its appearance and started destroying plants, the area had to declare a state of emergency. In the end, the tomato leaf miner had destroyed 80 percent of the areas tomatoes, making the prices of a large basket of tomatoes go up from $1.50 to $212. Many other developing nations have suffered similar fates as a result of the introduction of the tomato leaf miner. Experts say, it is only a matter of time before the moth spreads even further, invading countries within its geographical limits, which includes the United States of America. Tuta absoluta is a serious threat to crops around the world, and the threat will need to be addressed or tomato shortages will become a reality in countries everywhere.