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Video: Scientists work to stop moth from destroying world's tomato crop


BLACKSBURG, Va., Feb. 6, 2014 – In countries around the world, a tiny insect is wreaking havoc on farms and threatening to push up the price of tomatoes. At a recent workshop in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, scientists gathered to learn more about the tomato leafminer and ways to combat it.

Since the moth was detected in Ethiopia, the price of tomatoes there has risen fivefold, and the economic damage is just going to get worse, according to Muni Muniappan, who organized the workshop. He said farmers and scientists across East Africa and South Asia need to be taught to recognize the pest, also known as Tuta absoluta, so that as soon as it is discovered, they can take appropriate measures to prevent widespread damage.

After seeing the leafminer in action in tomato fields outside Addis Ababa, workshop participants drew up recommendations to be distributed to policymakers and government officials in the region.

"If this pest isn't controlled, it can cause serious economic damage to the countries it has invaded," Muniappan said.

The insect, native to South America, crossed the Atlantic in 2006, when it was identified in Spain. It has since spread throughout most of Europe, North Africa, the Middle East, Senegal, Sudan, and Ethiopia. 

Muniappan directs the USAID-funded Integrated Pest Management Innovation Lab, managed by the Office of International Research, Education, and Development at Virginia Tech.

Dedicated to its motto, Ut Prosim (That I May Serve), Virginia Tech takes a hands-on, engaging approach to education, preparing scholars to be leaders in their fields and communities. As the commonwealth’s most comprehensive university and its leading research institution, Virginia Tech offers 225 undergraduate and graduate degree programs to more than 31,000 students and manages a research portfolio of $496 million. The university fulfills its land-grant mission of transforming knowledge to practice through technological leadership and by fueling economic growth and job creation locally, regionally, and across Virginia.

Written by Rich Mathieson


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Virginia Tech's engagement work is at the heart of its land-grant mission. Read more about it in Outbursts, the monthly publication of Outreach and International Affairs.


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