Seychelles has imposed a temporary ban on the importation of tomatoes from South Africa after suspicion that a caterpillar known as the ‘tomato leaf miner’ has reached the country, said officials of the Bio Security Agency on Tuesday.
The Seychelles’ Minister for Agriculture and Fisheries, Michael Benstrong said the ban is likely to result in a shortage of tomatoes on the island nation.
The chief executive of the Bio Security Agency, Marc Naiken, told journalists that the agency suspects a new species of caterpillars found on a farm at Anse Royale, a district in the South of Mahe, to be the tomato leaf miner, or the ‘Tuta absoluta.’
Samples have been taken for further analysis at the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture in Benin in western Africa.
The Bio Security Agency of Seychelles, a group of 115 islands in the western Indian Ocean, awaits results as to whether the species is the tomato leaf miner.
The tomato leaf miner, which originated from South America, is a highly destructive insect that can ruin tomato and potato crops. South Africa reported the first outbreak in October last year.
According to officials from the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries and the National Bio Security Agency, the species poses a significant threat to the Seychelles’ biodiversity, especially to some crops such as tomatoes.
Naiken said, “We have not received any official confirmation from the South African authority with regards to the Tuta absoluta outbreak but we will take measures to safeguard our farming sector.”
Even though the caterpillars affect tomato plants, these species can also eat and live in the fruits and as a safety precaution the agency has already confiscated and will burn a consignment of tomatoes from South Africa.
As small tomato plants are also sold, people with home gardens are being asked to be on the alert and to report to the agency if they notice any larvae or caterpillars on these plants especially on the leaves, where they make ‘tunnel’ like patterns.
The Seychelles authorities suspect that the species entered the country through infested imported tomatoes. Statistics from the department of agriculture, forestry and fisheries published in 2013, shows that South Africa exports around 30 tonnes of tomatoes to Seychelles.
Minister Benstrong said that government is working closely with farmers as they are the ones who will be mostly affected.
“Some measures have been taken to contain the species as there is the fear of it spreading to the other islands,” said Benstrong.
In the meantime, there will be a shortage of tomatoes on the market as importers will have to seek other sources for this product and Benstrong said the agriculture ministry has provided importers with a list of countries with cases of Tuta absoluta as a preventive measure.
The authorities have announced that there is no ban on processed tomato products, such as canned tomatoes from South Africa.