Scientists gathered in Kigali for a global climate research conference are proposing solutions to fight against ‘Late Blight Disease’ that is highly affecting Irish potato production in Rwanda and other countries. ALSO READ: What are the most prevalent potato diseases in Rwanda? Late Blight is a critical potato disease that can lead to crop failures if effective control measures are not implemented promptly. Losses in potato yield can go as high as 80 per cent in epidemic years. A sustainable solution is needed in Rwanda given that the country produces about one million tonnes of Irish potatoes every year, making it the third most popular food crop produced in the country. The northern volcanic region, where the disease is prevalent accounts for more than 80 per cent of national potato production. ALSO READ: Irish potato farmers appeal for help as pests ravage gardens Matthias Trapp, a senior agriculture scientist, said he will collaborate, from 2023 to 2024, with the Government of Rwanda and other partners on a research project called “Weather and Pest Information System for Late Blight Disease by using different scalable technologies in selected areas of Rwanda” which will improve the forecast of the disease. The research is among 160 research projects showcased at the climate research conference in Kigali during a session dubbed “Connecting regional impacts and climate information.” It seeks to use weather stations, sensors, and mobile applications to forecast the disease and take appropriate measures to control its effects on Irish potatoes. ALSO READ: Govt to put more efforts to fight crop diseases “The move aims to support the development of digital agriculture meteorology in Rwanda for climate change adaptation,” he said. An agricultural meteorological station is a technology that measures weather conditions and shares with farmers to support their agricultural decisions. Response to climatic change Trapp noted that the motivation behind the use of technology in forecasting and controlling potato disease is based on the fact that “global warming has resulted in significant regional climatic changes.” ALSO READ: Rain and the control of fungal diseases on crops “Potato cultivation is a very important staple food crop in Rwanda. Late Blight Disease caused by the fungus Phytophthora infestans is a growing challenge. Occurrence and spreading is highly triggered by temperature and air humidity-based indices,” he said. Trapp noted that currently, farmers apply fungicides biweekly, not considering the actual risk of infection which often leads to inadequate use of fungicides. “Forecast modelling for Late Blight Disease can provide a more precise estimate of pesticides reducing the amount and application frequency,” he said. He said modelling needs regional and accurate weather data. “In Rwanda, currently only a small part of the weather stations is fully automated,” he said, noting that automation could help manage the disease. LORAWAN sensors To ensure the forecast and precise pesticides to use, Trapp said, LORAWAN sensors in the trial plots will be used to measure temperature and relative air humidity in real time. The wireless technology transmits data over long distances. LORAWAN, he noted, is a low-power and cost-effective solution for Internet of Things (IoT) applications. “Smartphone App will capture rain events and diseases in the field in real-time and help access to automated weather stations,” he said. Push for disease-resistant potato varieties While some scientists seek technology to monitor and forecast the disease, other scientists have recommended the development of seed varieties that are resistant to diseases, drought, and high rainfall. “Climate change is highly impacting agriculture. Such technologies will build crops’ resilience to climate change effects such as drought,” said Abdu Usanase, a researcher in agriculture. Scientists in Rwanda are pushing for the use of agricultural biotechnology in producing a new Irish potato variety resistant to the devastating Late Blight Disease which will also cut off the use of agro-chemicals. The GM (Genetically Modified) potatoes would be the first in Rwanda, and Rwanda in July 2023 took a step towards regulating genetically modified organisms (GMOs) with the introduction of a new draft law governing biosafety. Rwanda expects to have mobilised $24 million (approx. Rwf 29 billion) to develop climate-resilient crops by 2030 based on the government’s 10-year Climate Action plan submitted to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). The investment is needed at a time when the region is hit by unusual dry spells, floods, pests, and diseases that continue to ravage crops. “We did research and found that the eastern region is prone to dry spells while the northern and western regions are vulnerable to high rainfall. Interventions such as suitable crop varieties to adapt must be based on that,” said Faustin Munyazikwiye, the Deputy Director General of Rwanda Environment Management Authority.