Monday, May 4, 2009

Mobile phone looks set to become the new frontier for Uganda’s farmers

An initiative in two districts of Uganda has community workers sending text messages to farmers. The information may include how to arrest diseases and where to buy uncontaminated seeds. Mobile phones are being used to diagnose and treat crop diseases that cause massive losses to farmers, presenting an opportunity to increase yields as location-specific information about disease threats is made available.

An initiative in two districts of Uganda, has community knowledge workers (CKWs) sending text messages to farmers in a given locality. The information may include how to arrest the diseases, and where to buy uncontaminated seeds, as well as tips on how to improve soil quality to increase yields.

Aided by these mobile phone messages, farmers in a pilot scheme in the districts of Mbale and Mbusheni, in the east and west of the country respectively, have arrested the spread of banana wilt, a fast-spreading bacterial disease, and banana bunchy top virus (BBTV) through early diagnosis and treatment.

“We have trained the CKWs on how to use mobile phones to get information to the farmers. They offer agricultural tips and advice through the phones on what to do and not to do to control the diseases. Farmers even ask questions on wilt and BBTV and they receive automated answers on their phones,” Whitney Gantt of Grameen Foundation, a global anti-poverty organisation told IPS.

Banana is the staple food in the east African country, and more than 10 million people depend on it for food as well as cash incomes, according to government figures. Since 2002, banana wilt, whose symptoms include yellow wilting and premature ripening in young plants, has been terrorising farmers and steadily spreading to other parts of the country. In March, authorities launched a national campaign to control the disease which has spread to 21 districts from only 11 last year.

According to Gantt, the mobile project is expected to be replicated in other areas across the country.

She was among the researchers who gathered in Nairobi to discuss technologies that can generate location-specific (geospatial) information for farmers in order to boost agricultural productivity in Africa.

The spatial information experts met in Nairobi March 31 - April 4 as part of African Geospatial Week, organised by the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) a global body focusing on agriculture research.

Providing farmers with geospatial information about their soils, disease and pest threats, appropriate farming techniques, markets offering competitive prices, imminent weather patterns, emerged as key to ensuring high crop yields, while reducing uncertainties in production.

“This information could be known only to experts. The challenge is how do we get it to the farmers out there, and spot-on so that they can benefit?” Nadia Manning- Thomas, a researcher with the International Water Management Institute asked IPS.

Apart from mobile phones, Google maps technology can provide tonnes of farm-specific information to farmers. Using this technology, farmers can go online to see climate, soil and fertiliser recommendations for their farms.

(Source: IPS)