Farmers in Uganda lose up to 100% of their yield due to crop pests and diseases. Farmers either do not identify these problems in time or fail to manage them. The Uganda government has recruited agricultural extension officers (AO) at sub-County (SC) level. The AOs of Kagadi district have organized themselves and started running plant clinics to increase contact with farmers. We have so far conducted more than 10 plant clinic sessions and reached about 100 farmers.
A plant clinic is an agricultural extension method where farmers carry disease infected and pest infested plant samples to a designated place. Farmers from SCs gather at a clinic on a market day. The day and location are announced in Churches, local radio stations and WhatsApp groups. A team of 4-6 AOs (plant doctors) from different SCs diagnose the samples and identify the pest/disease problem together. The team then agrees on the most practical remedy to control, manage and prevent the problem. There are mobile applications i.e. data collection form and Factsheet Library apps to enable data to be retrieved and fed in an e-form for a farmer to receive a short message (SMS) on their phone. For plant samples that are not clear or inadequate, 1-2 plant doctors move with the farmer to the garden to observe field conditions and/or collect better samples, leaving the rest operating the clinic. A WhatsApp group was created for youth farmers and plant doctors country-wise to share information on plant pests and diseases. Farmers and plant doctors share pests and disease videos and pictures on this platform where remedies are discussed by all group members.
The plant clinic arrangement is easier to organize and it is cheaper because all problems are handled in one place. It helps the AO to know which plant problems are most predominant in their location depending on samples brought to the clinic.
However, frequency of these plant clinics is limited by logistical constraints. It is important for external agencies to provide funding to meet the weekly plant clinic expenditures. Furthermore, farmers are mainly given conventional (inorganic) remedies for example use of inorganic compounds which are disastrous to the natural environmental ecosystems. Commodities sprayed with much chemicals have low acceptance on International market. Use of natural substances that can control plant pests and diseases is not documented in the existing apps. These substances in terms of plant extracts (e.g. garlic – ginger extract) and fermented fruit juices have to be documented, collected, processed and made commercially available by mid-2019.
A botanical garden for such plants will be established as a demo site. An application will be developed as data base for these materials, including pest and disease diagnosis. We will profile remedies of plant pests and diseases, signs, symptoms and control strategy in local languages and add them on a mobile app before end of 2019. In our subsequent research, edible pests e.g. grasshoppers shall be identified and their descriptions published.
In the first three months, one youth per village will be selected and trained in use of this application. They will be released to help other youth in villages in the identification and management of plant pests and diseases using this app. We intend to scale up plant clinics to parish level in all SCs and be held weekly. Parish plant doctors will be enrolled for one year to support SC extension staff. We shall buy mobile phones for helping lead farmers access social networks and making proper use of the applications. We shall work with all AOs, Ministry of Agriculture Animal Industry and fisheries, farmers, agro-input dealers, and local governments. A Multi-stakeholder Innovation Platform for pests and disease control will be formed to prioritize roles among different stakeholders.
There is huge market opportunity for pest free agricultural commodities for Ugandan farmers due to oil and gas exploration activities in Uganda. We want to reach more farmers and strive for less than 5 % yield loss. Pest prevalence should reduce to levels an ecosystem can regulate due to enhanced capacity in pest and disease identification and management.
Reduced pest and diseases will bring about increased crop yields and thus increased income. We want to help farmers fight poverty and hunger through increased agricultural production (Sustainable Development Goal 1 and 2). Being a crop scientist, and after realizing that crop pest and diseases are a biggest problem, I want to intervene and change the situation. I hope to gain more fulfillment and reputation in my society and experience for future careers in crop protection. I want my society to get healthier crop gardens and foods at affordable costs. I therefore request to be selected and sponsored to come to IUPAC International Congress and Next Generation Agri Summit in Ghent, Belgium. I also want an N-GAGE champion seed funding to enable me develop further and implement these proposals.
Tumuhe Charles Lwanga, Uganda