Tackling Plant Epidemics using early warning systems

The end to the ongoing scarcity of tomatoes may be in sight and Nigerians can finally breathe a sigh of relief, as researchers say that a pesticide capable of killing a species of moth that has ravaged the crop. Some weeks back, Nigerians woke up to the news of the destruction of the tomatoes value chain in six states of the country, namely Jigawa, Kano, Katsina, Kaduna, Plateau and Lagos; by a moth, Tuta Absoluta or Tomato Leaf Miner, locally called Tomato Ebola. The moth attacks the leaves of the tomato plant, and larvae produced by the moth feeds voraciously on the plants causing a 100 percent loss in yield. This led to scarcity of tomatoes which are a central ingredient in many Nigerian dishes and very much part of the diet wit the price of a basket of tomatoes soaring from $1.20 (£0.80) three months ago to more than $40; this also meant so many Nigerians couldn’t afford it.

According to Daniel Manzo Maigari, Kaduna state’s commissioner for agriculture, some 200 farmers in the state have collectively lost more than $5m over the past month in. The governor of the state, Mallam Nasir El-Rufai, is quoted as saying that 80 percent of Kaduna’s tomato production was destroyed declared a tomato state of emergency in the sector. Kaduna state is deemed by the U.N. to be the tomato capital of Nigeria.

The insect allegedly invaded Nigeria from Niger republic and because of the lack of knowledge about it, or even containment measures that could have been taken, the disease spread like wildfire, leaving huge losses for tomato farmers in its wake. According to the Minister of Agriculture, Chief Audu Ogbeh, “the highly reproductive nature of the tomato pest coupled with the favorable environment and lack of management knowledge for containment resulted in its spread like a wild fire without any challenge. This development had led to the destruction of tomato fruits in Nigeria.”

Now, the Nigeria’s National Research Institute for Chemical Technology says it has found a solution – a pesticide which will kill off the moth. However, according to a BBC report, affected farmers would have to wait as the new pesticide is not commercially available yet. This is a welcome development. But much of this could have been averted using an early warning system.

It is a fact that crop pests and diseases are migratory in nature. For example, the pest Tuta Absoluta is said to have originated in the Tomato farms of South America. From there, it spread rapidly; one tomato producing country after another. When it enters a territory where it hasn’t been before, knowledge as well as chemicals for their containment would be very scarce. However, if there is an early warning system in place that can help identify the incident of a crop disease in some few farms before it hits the level of an epidemic, the damage it would do can be minimized. Its spread can therefore be curtailed effectively.

That is one of the solutions that the Kitovu Mobile Platforms brings; an early warning system that farmers can use to alert other farmers, research institutes, ministries of agriculture and other ecosystem stakeholders on diseases and pests that affect them. This would ensure that a solution can be found and dispatched in a timely fashion to farmers and so minimize widespread destructions.

With the Kitovu platforms, farmers are linked to federal and state ministries of agriculture, research institutes, meteorological stations, extension agents as well as Kitovu Knowledge Management Center. As soon as they notice any anomaly, they can immediately alert them and ask for help; which is provided to farmers speedily in real time. Beyond that, farmers can also ask for advice on the best inputs or herbicides to tackle very stubborn weeds and can receive information on the availability of improved varieties, ask for advice on the best time to plant considering changing climate, or even agricultural best practices from research institutes. That way, the agricultural ecosystem can be made very sustainable and losses in the proportion caused by Tomato Ebola can be forestalled. The net winner is Nigerians!

Post Harvest Losses

Post-harvest losses and wastage in Africa is at an all-time high, as a result, there is less total output per hectare of farm cultivated by farmer. This eventually makes farmers to want to cultivate much more farms to have more goods at their disposal. As a result, more land is cleared, leading to environmental degradation.

Farmers loose about forty percent of their produce annually. With Kitovu, most of what is produced by the farmer is easily made available to end users; individual users and manufacturers alike. Also, once its efficiency has been established, farmers who would have been trained on agricultural best practices and the use of less harmful organic fertilizers to grow their crops so as to continue benefiting from the service. That way, the use of indiscriminate and often times harmful chemical substances is limited and regulated thereby causing less harm to the environment.

By making their farming more sustainable through increased market access for them would lead to increased income for them by about forty percent, the same amount they would have lost to post harvest losses and wastage. Finally, with less wastage, there would be fewer emissions from gases released from putrefying food wastes.

It would also help create new jobs in farm logistics, as well as draw new entrants into farming as a result of a more profitable outlook to farming.

With Kitovu, farmers would have access to information that promotes sustainable agricultural practices, teaching them to use the best inputs and seedlings; all of which are ultimate drivers of an agricultural ecosystem that is both sustainable and profitable, which in turn would drive greater production. The long term beneficiary is Africa; her vast arable lands position her to be the hub that feeds the world.

The Kitovu Mobile Platform

KITOVU™ is an agricultural Mobile App as a Service Solution (MASS) consisting of a mobile app and SMS (USSD) Gateway cross-linked to a web portal; which creates market access for farmers while ensuring produce traceability, by linking them to manufacturers, produce buyers, as well as input buyers. The SMS gateway links farmers without smartphones to the Kitovu platform, ensuring that regardless of location, they have access to information, from improved seedlings to agricultural best practices that guarantees increased yield per hectare.

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Market Access for Farmers

Several farmers find it difficult to sell their produce, leading to post harvest losses and wastage. According to Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA), Africa loses food valued at $4 Billion dollars annually to post harvest losses. Narrowing down to Nigeria, she loses 40% of all agricultural produce to wastage and post-harvest losses. All these are as a result of an absence

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