Friday, April 10, 2009

Improving technology for small farmers in Uganda

Many farmers in Africa use their instincts and experience on which crops to plant and where. If they also had technology on their side, yields could increase dramatically, and would make the farmers less prone to having their crops wiped out by disease or weather.

From this story in the IPS, reporter Joyce Mulama explains how mobile phone technology is being introduced to help small farmers in Uganda. The phones are being used to determine which locations on farming land are susceptible to disease.

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 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 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 advise 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.

"[The initiative] has increased productivity because farmers have gotten to know where the diseases pose the biggest threat. They have then moved to take necessary control measures in good time before being affected, including getting information on where to get clean planting material," she said.

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.

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