Nigeria's tomato crisis: Can you make stew without tomatoes?

  • Published
Trays of tomatoes in the marketImage source, AFP
Image caption,
Scroll down for some tasty tomato-less recipes recommended by Nigerian cooks

Nigerians love their tomatoes, so their culinary life has been hit hard by soaring prices across the country caused by a pest wiping out crops.

In some markets you can pay as much as $2 (£1.40) for a single tomato.

The prices have been steadily rising since March - and last month a state of emergency was declared in the tomato sector of one state.

"This tomato crisis is no joke. My mom's friend grows tomatoes and sent us a little box and my mom looks like she's going to cry," one tweeter said this week.

Image source, @Kiitannextdoor

Halima Umar, a journalist in the BBC's Abuja bureau who colleagues say is an excellent cook, says she used to buy a basket of tomatoes a week - but now her family is having to get used to life without them.

"I've tried using preserved tomatoes in sachets as an alternative, but they turn stews sour - and are also expensive because they're imported," she said.

Nigerian food blogger Dunni Obata tried to help out by tweeting a link to her tomato-less stew.

"@DooneysKitchen to the rescue… hoping the price of substitutes don't go up," one person tweeted.

Other recipes are also being shared, including by Olapeju Aiyegbayo, who runs the catering company Zurielle's Pot in Ibadan.

She has helpfully posted videos on her Facebook page, showing how to prepare them.

Though not everyone who has experimented with the various recipes has been so complimentary about how things turned out. One man complained, not naming names: "This lady just messed up my rice and beans with this tomato less stew... shame on everybody responsible for this tomato crisis."

Image source, @JajiRamatu and @OyediranOjo
Image source, @ZuriellesPot

Ms Obata explains why stews are ubiquitous in Nigerian cooking.

"Wherever in the world a Nigerian is, there is bound to be a stew in the fridge. Even people who don't cook, manage stew," she explains on her blog Dooney's Kitchen.

Nigerian chef and food writer Nky Iweka, who calls herself "the executive Mama Put" - after the colloquial name for food stall vendors in Nigeria - said someone once told her that "Nigerian tomato stew (sauce to the rest of the world) is one of the world's culinary wonders".

"I'm inclined to agree. I use it in all manner of ways: To make bolognaise, as a pizza base, to eat with boiled rice, plantain or yam and of course to make our beloved jollof rice," she told the BBC.

"So when I read about the tomato shortage in Nigeria, I understood their despair."

Why is there a tomato crisis?

Image caption,
Nasidi's tomatoes sold at between 400 naira ($2) and 500 naira a basket in March (L). He snapped these small baskets in Abuja selling for 5,000 naira this week (R)

BBC journalist and tomato farmer Nasidi Adamu Yahaya explains:

The pest is actually a moth called the Tomato Leaf Miner, or Tuta Absoluta and it first appeared in early March. It has mainly affected states in the north: Jigawa, Kano, Kaduna and Katsina, but has also caused mayhem in Plateau and Lagos.

I have some land in Kano, from which I can produce about 30,000 tomatoes - that's about 2,000 big baskets. I was lucky because I planted early and managed to harvest all the fruit by mid-March, but you can harvest until May and those who planted a little later, like my best friend, have lost nearly all their crop.

The moths ravage the whole plant - leaves, tomatoes and stalk. They're like termites devouring wood.

It has cost the sector millions of dollars and affected 80% of farmers. But there is hope for the next season, as the Nigeria's National Research Institute for Chemical Technology has told the BBC that it has developed a pesticide that should eradicate the ravenous moths.

However, Ms Iweka, says the fact that tomatoes have become a culinary staple is ironic as they are not native to Nigeria.

"Traditionally, we would not have used tomatoes in any of the wide variety of dishes we have: Yam pottage, bean casserole, okro soup, oha soup, onugbu soup, nsala soup."

It's the love of rice that has led to the tomato anguish, as "most Nigerians eat rice at least once a day", she says.

"However, we do have other sauces that can be eaten with rice: Ayamase stew, thickened fisherman's soup, curry, various vegetable soups, bean casserole."

And the four quoted cooks have given the BBC permission to reproduce their recipes to help Nigerians through this time of "tomato-geddon".

Nky Iweka's Warri stew

Image source, Executive Mama Put
Image caption,
This thick and rich stew was a hit from the first time I made it says Nyk

Ingredients: Two red bell peppers (about 550g); seeded and quartered, one large onion (about 200g); peeled and quartered, one small onion (about 60g), peeled and thickly sliced, one scotch bonnet chilli, about 8g (or to taste optional); four tablespoon fresh thyme; 300ml groundnut or other vegetable oil.


Liquidise the bell peppers, quarter onion and chilli (optional) with little water - aim for a fairly chunky mixture. Place oil and sliced onions in a pan and fry until the onions turn black. Remove and discard them. Turn down the heat and fry the tomato puree for a minute or so and then add the thyme and liquidised vegetables.

Continue to fry the stew on a low to medium heat for about 20-30 minutes and the mixture will reduce. You will know it's ready when the oil floats to the top. Any additions such as cooked/fried meat, fish or chicken should be made now. Cook for a further five-10 minutes to heat them through. Drain the oil and serve

Halima Umar's vegetable stew

Image source, Halima Umar
Image caption,
Vegetable stew is rich in flavour - and so called because it has more veg than meat

Ingredients: Three onions; eight to 10 potatoes; one medium cabbage; six carrots; four cloves of garlic and a few chicken breasts.

Instructions: Boil chicken pieces and set aside, then boil some small potatoes, drain and set aside. Heat the oil in a pan on a medium heat, add onions, garlic and carrots. Cook for eight minutes stirring continuously then add a small amount of chicken broth, now add the chicken pieces and the boiled potato. Add salt and seasoning. Reduce the heat and mix in corn flour with water and pour in. Then add some shredded cabbage and allow to simmer for few minutes. Serve with rice, spaghetti or anything you like. Serves five.

Dunni Obata's tomato-less stew

Image source, Dooney's Kitchen
Image caption,
Bell peppers are often used as a good alternative to tomatoes in stew

Ingredients: Tatshe (red bell peppers); shombo pepper (long red chilli) use half or all; a few ata rodo (scotch bonnet or habanera pepper) - the bigger ones are not as hot as the small; ginger; three or four fairly large onions; half an iru (fermented locust bean) - if you like iru for fuller flavour use all and garlic is good alternative if you don't like iru; vegetable oil; ike eran(hump of the cow); palm oil (optional but good to use if the stew is too hot.

Instructions: Blend all the ingredients into a smooth paste then check the taste. Here you can add more ata rodo (scotch bonnet) if it's not hot enough. Place in a pot and bring to the boil this intensifies the pepper mix and develops the rich red colour. Heat the oil and add chopped onions, add more iru if you want and extra garlic. Add the boiled pepper and allow to fry until thickened. Lighten with beef stock or fried meat. Taste and then add more seasoning as need.

Olapeju Aiyegbayo's stew with beef

Image source, Zurielle's Pot
Image caption,
A quick and easy stew with chunks of beef

Ingredients: One kilo of beef; one or two shombo pepper (long red chillies); one medium sized onion: two or three tatashe's (bell peppers); a piece of ginger; palm oil; groundnut oil; salt; seasoning cube; two or three pieces of rodo (scotch bonnets).

Instructions: Cut up the beef, season, cook on medium heat with half a cup of water; de-seed and rinse the peppers. (Keep seeds if you want a hot stew). Blend peppers until smooth then in a separate pot add one cooking spoon of groundnut oil and one cooking spoon of palm oil. Next add the piece of peeled ginger for flavour then pour in the blended peppers. check the beef, it should be tender, sieve the stock and pour into the stew. Cook on a medium heat for 15-20 minutes stirring occasionally. After 15 minutes add the beef, reduce the heat and simmer for 5-10 minutes. Turn off the heat and let cool for two minutes.

Around the BBC

Related Internet Links

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites.