28th June 2018 is a day that will forever be fresh in my mind. I was on my normal internship routine of meeting maize farmers in Masindi district and training them on how to use herbicides instead of manual labor; a program which was sponsored by a German chemical company called BASF. This Thursday morning was going on as planned until I reached a garden where a small crowd of people had converged. Being curious and adventurous, I quickly joined the group to find out what was happening. A lady in mid-thirties whose name I later found out to be Akiiki was seated in her garden wailing and crying on top of her voice, “nyowe mpoire, nkugenda kukora ki!”, which in English can be loosely translated as “I am finished, what I am I going to do! She couldn’t stop crying despite people’s efforts to calm her down. On inquiring what had happened, I was told that she had acquired an agricultural loan from a local microfinance and presented her house as security, since as a single mother, that’s all she had. She had then used the money to hire 5 acres of land and plant maize. To her dismay, when she came to check on how her garden was performing two weeks later, she found all her 5 acres destroyed by the fall army worm.
Maize contributes to the livelihoods of over 3.6 million households (UBOS, 2014) and the presence of the armyworm in Uganda translated to an annual loss of at least 450,000 metric tons of maize that is equivalent to $192m in 2017 (MAAIF, 2018). In Kenya, the pest has destroyed between 11,000 and 15,000 hectares of maize, and in Rwanda, the figure stands at more than 15,300 hectares. In Ethiopia, 1.7 million hectares of maize have been destroyed — approximately 22 per cent of the total maize planted in the country (FAO, 2017). This means that many people have suffered just like Akiiki or even more due to this pest problem on fall army worm in Africa
Mode of Action
As a graduate of agriculture, I knew so much about the maize fall army worm (FAW), how to deal with it regarding control, prevention and management. Therefore, in addition to my internship activities, I began training maize farmers on how to fight this pest using various agronomical methods, cultural methods and agro-chemical methods. Though I had some success, I was imited by the overwhelming need of this service coupled with so many farmers to reach out to in a short period of time. I therefore had to think fast so as to come up with a solution on how I can reach these so many farmers before the next maize season in Uganda begins (which begins around March). I came up with an idea converting this information of fighting fall army worm into a digital platform so that anyone with a smart phone can access this information. I formed a multi-disciplinary team of like-minded young people and we planned on making a mobile application to make this dream a reality.
With a focus on:
- An app that has all the necessary information to fight the fall army worm in maize
- An app that is simple enough to be operated by a lay man/which doesn’t need any form of training to use/ whose flow and interface is a basic
- An app that can be accessed offline since internet accessibility is still low in Africa.
With these three major points, Maize FAW mobile application was launched on Google play store. This app also has information about agro chemical handling and spraying information as well as a special program which when a farmer contacts us (using the contacts provided in the app), we can obtain information about the infestation of his /her garden and then organize an appropriate spraying package for his/her farm.
Plan of action
Our operations are rotating rhythmically with the seasonality of the maize crop. The first season (between March and May) is going to be the rolling out phase. We are planning to have all the apps in the five languages released by April as well as doing sensitization and advertising about our applications from February onwards. We will however focus in Bunyoro sub-region (Masindi, Hoima, Kiryandongo and Buliisa), the main maize growing region in Uganda and intensify our activities there. Lessons learnt from this region will be used to improve our mode of operation as we expand to other regions. The next season will be for expanding our operations in other regions as well as making more apps in the various local languages.
With a grand plan of equipping farmers all over Africa with the knowledge on how to fight fall army worm, we are planning to expand our team to include more agricultural experts so as to effectively help the farmers who get to us for solutions. We are under way to translating this Fall Army Worm information from English into local languages. Languages, Kiswahili, Luganda, Lunyoro, Luo and Runyankole are the first target since these are spoken by more than half of the population of maize farmers in East Africa. This will enable us make applications in local languages to help the farmers understand and use the information in a much better way. Not only will this help farmers but it will also provide employment opportunities to translators, agriculture trained students, among others.
Measure of success
Our measure of success will be in the number of downloads of our application, the number of people employed, the number of farmers that have contacted us, the areas covered and the quantities of agrochemicals sold out.
Now is the time to use information and knowledge sharing as a tool to fight hunger and food insecurity in the world.
Paul Mugisha, Uganda