Why Jollof And Nigerians Lose Colour In The Tomato Crisis

If we can step back and apply a common sense approach to the issue, we may begin to see that many challenges facing Nigeria can be resolved faster or ameliorated to a large extent by the people, without government intervention.

Baskets of fresh tomatoes in a Nigerian Market.
Baskets of fresh tomatoes in a Nigerian Market.

Life can be upended when everyday food like peppers and tomatoes become suddenly scarce.

Jollof rice has to look and taste exactly right and when it doesn’t, people can lose their colour, composure and temper.

That’s what’s been happening to Nigerians for two months under a tomato crisis.

All nations deal with scarcity of essential items.

America, for instance, has faced egg, milk and toilet paper scarcity in recent times.

But how each country approaches its undersupply reveals its culture and spirit.

In Nigeria, the tomato crisis has shown a people lacking in responsibility.

Instead of facing the problem, soaring prices became another dagger thrown at the Tinubu administration, which has been unable to tame hyperinflation brought by monetary policies it introduced in 2023.

It has become typical of Nigerians to blame anyone but themselves for any problem, and to express an inflated idea about their difficulties, compared to others.

Anyone who tries to persuade Nigerians about juxtaposing their worries with other people’s experiences is looking for trouble.

All problems are gigantic in Nigeria and all solutions start and end with the government.

Nigerians pray for good leaders but fail to see how they, being good followers, are far more important for a better society.

Back to tomatoes.

Nigeria is probably facing its worst scarcity in recorded history.

According to reports, prices spiked by up to 300% in some places – although prices are now easing.

The government attributes the shortages to severe pest infestations.

The pest, tuta absoluta, burns tomato leaves, which damages the fruit and leads to rot.

The disease, also known as “Tomato Ebola,” is said to be affecting tomato farms in northern Nigeria, causing severe damage to crops at the nation’s food basket.

Other accounts of the root cause of the scarcity of nightshade plants differ from the official version.

Some traders are convinced the shortages are caused by factors ranging from insecurity and banditry in the north, the removal of the subsidy on petroleum products to heavy rains.

One thing is incontrovertible though – tomato ebola is perennial.

And if it occurs annually, there has to be an additional contributor to the problem.

One significant change in the last year has been the high cost of transportation, due to the removal of fuel subsidy.

The assertion is buttressed by similar inflation in livestock prices due to high transportation costs, causing a lot of Muslims to fail in their religious duty to slaughter animals sacrificially during the Ed festival last month.

It has become too expensive to ship products from the northern parts of Nigeria to the south, where most of the consumption occurs.

To that extent, Tinubu administration can be rightly blamed for not responding correctly to a natural incident.

But is transportation cost the only reason for, and solution to, the tomato scarcity?

The problem is totally eased if Nigerians would stop moaning about every issue and do something to help themselves.

If we can step back and apply a common sense approach to the issue, we may begin to see that many challenges facing Nigeria can be resolved faster or ameliorated to a large extent by the people, without government intervention.

Let’s take the Shirley Chisholm approach. The first black woman to be elected to the United States Congress and first black presidential aspirant reasoned: “You don’t make progress by standing on the sidelines, whimpering and complaining. You make progress by implementing ideas.”

It’s important to dissect the quote to appreciate the perspective it brings.

Progress, that is, moving forward, is a process that belongs to all citizens. And for progress to be made, complaining alone will not get us moving.

So, instead of just whimpering on the sidelines, she called for critical thinking, diligent working and acting on ideas.

What Nigeria needs the most at this difficult moment are citizens who can rise to the calling. Citizens who can think outside the box, roll up their sleeves and get to work. Citizens who take R-E-S-P-O-N-S-I-B-I-T-Y!

We Nigerians are too fond of whining and it is sickening.

We whine all over WhatsApp and TikTok, thinking we are the only people in the universe with a problem.

Our inflation is a mere 40%, but it is a staggering 300% in Argentina. Syria has 140%, Lebanon has 140%, Venezuela has 75.9%, Turkey faces 67.07% and Sudan is dealing with 63.3% rate of inflation.

Not only are we moaning the loudest, we also assume that all solutions must come from the government, even when we are so terrible at voting the right candidates to power.

Tomato scarcity exists in other parts of the world, for similar reasons.

In one of the strongest nations in agriculture and horticulture, Israel, farmers are also struggling this year due to various factors, and supermarkets are predicting a tomato shortage.

European heatwaves have jeopardized tomato crops in Spain, a major producer.

Nigerians should also explore the idea of greenhouse farming, a method of growing crops in a controlled shelter, where water and light are the main ingredients for planting

India, very much similar to Nigeria in agricultural technology and ethnic diversity, faced a major tomato scarcity in mid-2023. The culprit was erratic weather patterns, most likely linked to climate change. The country launched a “Tomato Grand Challenge Hackathon” to find solutions and efforts to move tomatoes from surplus areas to major cities.

Like India, Nigeria must find creative ways to solve problems.

In a tropical climate with lots of rain and sunshine, I do not know what stops the majority of Nigerians from planting tomatoes in their backyards.

Since the 1970s, the government has been imploring Nigerians to take a little interest in farming.

The Obasanjo military regime introduced “Operation Feed the Nation” to spark a revolution in which Nigerians can start little farms that supplies some of their household needs. It all fell on deaf hears.

We want to eat everything but do not want to produce anything.

In many countries, citizens do farm around the home, even city dwellers in New York, London, Paris, Amsterdam and Sydney. At the beginning of the spring season, vegetable seed and seedlings fill garden sections of many stores. People plant indoors and outdoors, and traffic moves heavily towards seedling stores by people who appreciate planting organic vegetables for their own consumption.

With a little investment in wood, soil, buckets, seed and seedlings, one can easily produce tomatoes and even have leftover for neighbors and family. All it takes to nurture vegetables is water, sunshine and time.

All kinds of edibles can be produced at home. I have even seen oranges planted in the patio of Italian homes.

While home gardening does not fully solve the problem of vegetable scarcity, it reduces its impact.

Nigerians should also explore the idea of greenhouse farming, a method of growing crops in a controlled shelter, where water and light are the main ingredients for planting.

Since greenhouses are covered, they protect plants from pests and severe weather, while creating a warm and humid environment that’s ideal for planting. It is revolutionizing agriculture in Israel and The Netherlands.

Greenhouse farming requires less water and space and allow plants to be grown year-round with optimal climate control settings.

It is a technology that is as old as the Roman Empire.

I read a report about Western Nigerian governors nursing a grand idea about establishing government farms all over the south-west as their solution.

It should not require an oracle to predict that any time the government dabbles into private investments, no matter how long it takes, it eventually fails.

Corruption in public service never allows government-owned businesses to prosper.

The idea by the governors is a bad one.

Instead, they should create the right environment to make a large number of people to return to farming, and open the door to the use of agricultural technology, such as in greenhouse farming, to supplement, if not outstrip, what’s coming from the north.

There are so many federal, international and university research centers for agriculture in Nigeria. They should be able to tackle the problem of pests by equipping farmers with disease-resistant breeds.

Some Nigerians are already helping themselves by going into backyard farming, and heaven is smiling on them through the rough times.

It is the duty of leadership to enable research into pest-resistant seeds, agricultural technology and open the nation up to modern farming

My classmate gets most of his household food needs from his home garden in the Lekki Peninsula. Family members also tell me about their resourcefulness in gardening and raising goats and chicken at home.

Those who are not just complaining but are doing something are the breed needed to take Nigeria forward – those who have taken responsibility for their happiness.

Of course, the government cannot be absolved of its own responsibilities and failures.

Food security is part of the national security.

The government must anticipate extreme weather events as a naturally recurring phenomenon.

It is the duty of leadership to enable research into pest-resistant seeds, agricultural technology and open the nation up to modern farming.

Like followers, like leaders.

The Tinubu administration cannot fold its hands.

If short-term importation can help, it should have been an option.

More importantly, we need to know how Nigeria is preparing for climate change and what options it is exploring for modernized farming.

All of Nigeria’s tomatoes and peppers cannot be produced from only one part of the country.

To ensure food security, farming should be spread out to all states as a national security policy and economic strategy.

Apart from the need to solve the high cost of transportation of farm products from the north to the south, food must be produced all over Nigeria.

Everything must work in concert.

Nigerians need to slow down on name-and-blame activism, and reflect on their own obligation to problem solving.

People who spend every available time at pubs and social events will not have any time to plant peppers and tomatoes or start fish farming.

As the government is failing Nigerians, so is the majority of Nigerians failing themselves when all they do is whimper, instead of helping themselves.


Written by Tunde Chris Odediran

Tunde Chris Odediran studied and practiced journalism in Nigeria. He is now a Technical Communications and Information Technology professional in the United States.