Will new ICT-led approach eliminate banana wilt disease?

An official explains to farmers how the BXW App works. / Courtesy

An ICT based solution is being billed as the solution to overcome Banana Xanthomonas Wilt, the banana disease locally known as “Kirabiranya” and thus double banana production, agricultural scientists have reassured.

Banana Xanthomonas Wilt was reported in Rwanda in 2001 and it has since affected about 3,600 hectares.

It destroys the harvest, damages extensively banana plantation and is very easily transmissible through insects, strays and contaminated farming tools.

Scientists at the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) and Rwanda Agricultural Board assure that the ICT led approach will ensure food safety, and improve livelihoods in Rwanda and in Africa.

By 2020, they say a pilot project to use ICT in fighting against the disease will have benefitted 5,000 farmers according to the scientists.

A farmer arranging banana leaf with wilt disease away from other plants. / Courtesy

The project is focused on developing, piloting, and deploying ICT-based tool for surveillance and control of the banana disease.

Svetlana Gaidashova, a Banana researcher at RAB said that the project has developed an ICT App called “ ICT4BXW App”, which serves to diagnose, control and prevent banana wilt using different steps that show up when you open the App.

The application is available in the play store that is used by anyone with a smartphone.

After going through all steps of the app, it tells whether a banana plantation has the disease or not so as to apply an approach called “Single Diseased Stem Removal (SDRSR)”.

The project aligns with the ICT for Rwanda in Agriculture (ICT4Rag) Strategy running from 2016 to 2020, by the Ministry of Agriculture and Animal Resources, which intends to digitize agricultural services in Rwanda.

“The ICT application will help us to be aware of the disease status across the country without a high cost. It also teaches farmers how to fight the disease,” she said.

The project currently works in 8 districts namely; Gisagara, Muhanga, Burera, Rulindo, Kayonza, Gatsibo, Karongi and Rubavu.

“Farmers have been counting a lot of losses. For example last year, in one sector called Rukara in Kayonza district, 35 per cent of the banana harvest was lost due to the disease. Besides the loss of harvest, we can even lose the quality banana varieties we have,” she said.

Farmers upbeat

At least 69 farmer promoters have been trained to help scale up the use of the application as they are the ones who work closely with farmers.

They have been provided with smartphones and equipped with skills and capability to use them to diagnose the disease in banana plantations that they normally supervise.

Any agricultural message that is delivered through farmer promoters is easily transmitted to other farmers.

A scientist assesses a plantation that was totally devastated by BXW in Kayonza. / Courtesy

This approach also involves removing just an effected plant or stem, rather than uprooting the entire plantation.

This approach is different from the previous system, where farmers used to remove all plants, every time they found out an infected stem in the field.

Emmanuel Nsengiyumva, a farmer in Kayonza district in Rukara sector said that they used to count losses because of the banana wilt.

“I counted losses on 0.5 hectares. I use the application on my smartphone. It guides on what to do when I detect the disease. I remove the affected banana plant,” he said.

Mathilde Umutoni, the farmer promoter trained on using the programme explained that easily disseminate information to agronomists about the disease.

“In our village, we had healthy banana plantations, but they were all affected and therefore the application is timely,” she said.

Overall, the banana subsector covers about 23% of the entire cultivated land in Rwanda, estimated at 900,000 hectares of banana plantations.

A farmer with banana plantation affected by banana wilt. / Courtesy

Banana production in Rwanda averages at about 2.5 million metric tons per.

Cooking banana accounts for over 45 per cent, 45 per cent by beer type and 10% dessert type.

Currently, there are more than 60 banana varieties in farmers’ fields, and 117 in RAB field collection.
 
Rwanda Agriculture and Animal Resources Development Board (RAB) estimates that there are about 1.4 million smallholder banana growers – out of about 8 million people who rely on agriculture in the country

editor@newtimesrwanda.com