Insect of the Month (February): Tomato leafminer, Tuta absoluta

The year 2020 marks the 50th anniversary of the International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology (icipe). 

icipe was established in 1970 by the late internationally renowned Kenyan scientist, Prof. Thomas Risley Odhiambo, at a time when the very notion that insect science – or indeed, the then woefully small indigenous scientific communities – could contribute to a prosperous future for Africa must have seemed audacious to say the least.

icipe has progressed and flourished just as envisioned. Today, the Centre stands as a source of pride for Kenya and for Africa, with well-deserved regional and international acclaim as the only institution on the continent working primarily on insects and other arthropods, and a hub of scientific excellence and capacity building. 

This esteem has been achieved through unwavering commitment to the Centre’s original vision of elevating the lives of communities across Africa, by providing solutions that are environmentally safe, pre-empt the use of harmful chemicals, are affordable, accessible and easy-to-use, for the management of pests of crops, and disease transmitting insects. Moreover, our science-led strategies are helping communities, especially those in marginalised areas, to exploit beneficial insects, like bees and silkworms, while protecting the environment. We have also pioneered research in the exciting area of insects as alternative sources of food for people and feed for livestock, and other uses like organic waste conversion. Our holistic approach contributes to improving household and national incomes, employment and nutritional security of many people in Africa, transforming livelihoods in an inclusive manner, especially for women and the youth.  

Our golden jubilee is embodied in the slogan: ‘Insects for Life’ – a dual expression of the interlinkage between icipe 4H research approach that encompasses: Human, Animal, Plant and Environment Health; and the unwavering commitment of the Centre to its vision and mission. In tandem, we are running an Insect of the Month series that provides an illustration of intricate interlinkage between insects and livelihoods, in Africa and beyond.

Tomato leafminer, Tuta absoluta

With a gross production value of 5.6 billion USD, tomato is an essential crop for Africa. Besides its nutritional value, tomato offers a reliable source of employment and income to smallholder farmers through domestic and regional trade, especially for women. The tomato leafminer, Tuta absoluta, originates from Latin America and invaded Africa in 2010 through Spain, where it is now present in 31 African countries. In Northern Nigeria, more than 80% of production was lost in 2016, leading to a 10-fold increase in tomato prices, dubbing the invasion as ‘tomato ebola’. Alarmed by rampant spread and the destructive nature of this pest, growers resort to indiscriminate widespread use of broad-spectrum insecticides. icipe is at the forefront of developing an environmentally friendly integrated pest management approach for this pest, based on mass trapping, classical biological control using Dolichogenidea gelechiidivoris and development of fungal-based biopesticides. 

Tomato leafminer, Tuta absoluta.
Tomato leafminer, Tuta absoluta