Feed the Future
This project is part of the U.S. Government's global hunger and food security initiative.

Tomato Leafminer Invasion Identified in Nepal and Bangladesh

Two new countries have succumbed to the tomato leafminer invasion. After receiving awareness training led by the Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Integrated Pest Management, scientists in Bangladesh and Nepal identified the same tiny moth responsible for the wholesale destruction of this year's Nigerian tomato crop. Tuta absoluta, also known as the South American tomato leafminer, is a destructive tomato pest that multiplies and spreads quickly. Native to South America, it found its way to Spain in 2006 and has been on the move ever since, invading countries in Europe, the Mediterranean, Central and South Asia, and Africa. It was confirmed in Bangladesh and Nepal this past spring.

Sticky traps provided by the Virginia Tech-led Innovation Lab during a Tuta absoluta workshop allow partners in Nepal to identify the presence of the tomato leafminer in the country.

Officials in Bangladesh and Nepal knew how to read clues after scientists taught them what signs to look for in two workshops last year. The Integrated Pest Management Innovation Lab, headquartered at Virginia Tech, assembled teams of experts in Bangladesh and Nepal to prepare scientists and farmers for the pest's inevitable spread. Examining photos and specimens that the two countries shipped to Blacksburg, Virginia in the last few weeks, the lab's director, Virginia Tech entomologist Muni Muniappan, confirmed that the pest in question is Tuta absoluta.

Tuta absoluta is the pest responsible for destroying the 2016 Nigerian tomato crop, reported nationally and internationally as a "tomato emergency." Scientists at the Virginia Tech-led Integrated Pest Management Innovation Lab have spent the past several years raising awareness of the pest through workshops, especially in countries that might benefit most from anticipating the spread. This table shows where the pest has spread since 2006. The Innovation Lab provided lures to scientists in Bangladesh and Nepal who trapped the moths, which then enabled identification to take place. In Nepal, Sulav Paudel at International Development Enterprises (iDE) Nepal, an NGO and Innovation Lab partner, credited the training for the quick identification. "Looking at the morphology, damage, and moth catch in the pheromone traps, we were sure that what we were seeing was Tuta," Paudel said. 

Adjacent countries such as Burma, Thailand and Cambodia will likely be invaded in the near future. Muniappan recently traveled to Cambodia to hold two awareness-raising workshops there and spoke on it at the USAID Horticulture Programming in Feed the Future meeting in Malaysia last week. The IPM Innovation Lab will also hold a Tuta absoluta symposium at the upcoming International Congress of Entomology in Orlando, Florida at the end of this month.

The pest cannot be destroyed, but employing integrated pest management practices focused on nontoxic means can lead to effective control. “With the proactive actions taken by the IPM Innovation Lab, we hope to significantly reduce the economic loss caused by this pest in Nepal and Bangladesh, as well as in the rest of Asia and the United States,” Muniappan said.