Tools and technologies for broad-scale disease and pest surveillance of crops in low-income countries: Ethiopia

Agriculture remains the largest source of livelihood in low-income countries like Ethiopia. This economic sector plays a dominant role in the growth of the Ethiopian economy with about 85 per cent of the country’s population dependent on farm income. Over 30% of the agricultural produce of the nation is lost to the ravages of crop pests and diseases. Except in small and location specific conditions, broad-scale innovative cropping or farming systems approaches in plant protection research, technology transfer, adoption and diffusion of technologies were seldom used in solving crop protection problems in the country. Insect pests and crop diseases inflict enormous losses to the potential agricultural production.

The scanning of literature and analysis of the crop protection problems in the study area reveal that the potential of wide-area based innovative crop disease and pest surveillance system approach remains largely unexplored. A large share of the publications focus on cropping or farming ‘systems’ whereas ‘innovation’ often equals the development, transfer, adoption and diffusion of transform-oriented tools  and technologies in a wider area. Such creative and unconventional technologies are crucial to enhance the resilience of crop protection systems to climate change in a low-income country like Ethiopia which is confronted with the ravages of invasive alien crop pests and diseases that exacerbate food security and sustainable development problems in a wider geographic area.

There is relatively little attention for the institutional and political dimensions of crop protection and the interactions between farm, regional and national levels in crop protection systems in a wider area. Insect and disease movement occurring sometimes over long distances is generally underestimated. As a consequence, most conventional pest management strategy is implemented as a localized or field by field, uncoordinated action against segments of a pest population, resulting very often in an unsustainable spiral of insecticide application and eventual resistance of the pest against the pesticides used. On the other hand, an area-wide integrated pest management (AW-IPM) approach involves a preventive rather than a reactive strategy, whereby all individuals of the pest population are targeted in time and space, requiring in the longer term fewer inputs and resulting in more cost-effective and sustainable pest management. In a climate changing scenarios, we need quick and efficient tools and technologies for early detection of crop pests and diseases by optimizing surveillance protocols in food crops in a wider area before outbreaks happen and early detection of an invasive pest requires a great amount of luck and sweat. The objective of this study is therefore to find innovative tools and technologies for a wide-area scanning of crop pests in a short amount of time in the study area.

Project Design and Implementation Plan

The success of area-wide interventions aimed at suppressing crop diseases and insect pest populations rests largely on appropriate experimental planning and implementation of any new innovative tools and techniques made available. This is true in the wider context of pest surveillance and management strategies in precision agriculture. In this context, a successful intervention program requires accurate knowledge of preexisting distributions of insect pests, diseases of crops and beneficial bio-control agents in time and space for planning appropriate insect suppression strategies and development of suitable time frameworks for monitoring and evaluation within the framework of bio-intensive IPM. Timing of surveillance for crop pest and diseases will be determined based on the life cycle of pests, phenology of pest and its host, timing of pest management program. Targeting information can be provided by a combination of innovative tools and techniques and relevant baseline data obtained from pest and or disease data sheets, pest risk maps, and pest models (habitat or host model, climate model, economic and prioritation model).

Study Area: The desired study area is located in the mid-highland Gondar and Gojam of the Amhara Regional State covering areas of high agricultural potential characterized by low productivity of cereals, pulses and horticultural crops by low income subsistence farmers suffering from the ravages of crop pests and diseases. Topographicaly, much of the land slopes gently to the Abay River Basin and is characterized by rolling plains interrupted by small hills and mountains and lies at an altitude of about 2133 masl level, annual average temperature of 27 0c and average annual rainfall of 1300ml.

Materials & methods: The research methods, the tools, and innovative technologies to be developed for use would include primarily area-wide remote sensing technology in conjunction with global positioning system (GPS), geographic information system (GIS), and variable rate technology (VRT) are technologies that scientists can implement to help farmrs maximaze the economic and environmental benefit of area-wide crop and pest management through precision agriculture.  GIS in conjunction with remote sensing would be employed for mapping geographical distribution of pests, delineating hot spot zones of crop pests and disease occurrence and in monitoring changes in crop conditions. Additional tactical ground tools are also used as support systems for detection and verification of crop diseases and pests. Such support tools include, among others mobile & radio technologies, E-nose system for fast artificial olfaction diagnosis or detection, and digital video  support system. The results of this research grant would contribute in the establishment and demonstration of satellite observation of general plant health as a foundation for larger efforts. Plant health is an indicator that can lead to more complex analyses as the use of satellites and other sensor platforms evolve in Ethiopia. The proposal should also speak to establishing on ongoing stream of satellite data for timely observations and results.

Data acquisition: Arial hyperspectral satellite imagery would help to distinguish multiple crop characteristics (nutriens, water, pests, diseases, weeds, etc); to detect crop pests and more efficiently at regional level; Information on satellite imaginary and aerial photography from remote sensing, GIS, and GPS technologies are complementary; Data on meteorological information from the central meteorological station of the study area is made available; Baseline information on land use patterns from original images; Biophysical & biochemical parameters of vegetation across the study area;  Data on changing patterns on disease and pest occurrence, magnitude of infestation and damage to crops over time and space; Optical and video imaging in near infra-red and microwave regions to quantify nocturnal flight behavior of target pests; Data on hot spots of pest & disease infestation and damage for targeting precision IPM; Compiling data on the use of supporting tools like mobile & redio technologies, E-nose and digital video  support systems on ground surveys; Data on population distribution of insect pests, diseases of crops and beneficial bio-control agents pre- and post application of IPM interventions;  Data on type of cloud, extent of cloud cover, cold cloud duration will be recorded for detecting target crop diseases.

Data analysis and interpretation: Remotely collected data would be analyzed using EMR and areal photodraph and satellite imegery would be analized to obtain information about crop pests and diseases that can be seen; Analysis of vegetation index, standard difference indices (SDI) and ratio vegetation index (RVI) using ENVI 4.8 & SPSS software. These indices are used to clarify the threshold for zoning the outbreak. Early detection of infestation could reduce the extent of damage and  cost of IPM interventions & safe money; Combination of an E-nose system with mass spectrometry or gas chromatography would contribute in addressing the challenges; Innovative E-nose technologies with emphasis on applications in plant pest detection would be a major advantages for E-noses is expected to be extremely sensitive, providing real-time analysis, easy to operate plant pest diagnosis, laboratory and field environment with accurate prediction and satisfactory sensor performance; Analysis of optical and video imaging in near infra-red and microwave regions to quantify the nocturnal flight behavior of target pests.

Yohannes  Moges, Ethiopia