A group of farmers in Ntcheu district, Central Malawi, have clubbed together to fund the first purpose-built permanent plant clinic to help fight a range of crop-devastating pests and diseases that threaten their livelihoods and food security.
Pengapenga Plant Clinic, which previously operated under a tree in the market place, is now providing a more attractive and fit-for-purpose brick structure which is giving the 1,000 smallholder farmers it serves shelter from the rain.
A small-scale farmer in Chilanga District, Moses Banda has seriously taken up vegetable production. Mr Banda commends Government for its continued support in assisting farmers in addressing crop problems and how best to control them organically.
“My vegetables always had holes due to Sefasefa (Diamond Back Moth) and all I could think of was spraying but little did I know that the chemicals were harmful not only to the soils but humans and the entire ecosystem. Through this interaction with the Plant Doctors, I have learnt insects are being resistant to chemicals and that we should consider treating these insects organically through the use of crop rotation and Neem tree, which is soaked in water and sprayed to infected plants,” he explained.
Plantwise addresses the constant struggle that small-scale farmers go through to produce food by providing affordable, locally available solutions to plant health problems.
Growing up in a small village in Western Kenya, I often accompanied my mother and other village women on customary weeding expeditions. Whenever we came across sick plants in the fields—which was all too often—my mother would instruct me to pull them out and cast them aside.
I did as she asked, but wondered to myself: Why do we simply throw out the plants instead of doing something to make them better?
At times, my mother lost nearly 80 percent of her tomatoes to plant disease. The loss was so bad that she eventually stopped growing tomatoes all together. Yet when one of our cows got sick, my mother would call a veterinarian to come and treat the cow. I wondered: Were there no doctors who could also cure our plants?
I turned this curiosity into a career in science and became the first child in my family to attend university as well as the first woman in my village to earn a science degree. Seeking answers to my childhood questions, I studied botany and zoology as an undergraduate to better understand the diversity of crop and animal pests and diseases afflicting farmers like my mother in Kenya and her peers across Africa. I wanted nothing more than to find a practical solution.
Proponents term it the long awaited messiah that food-insecure Africa has been yearning for! ‘Farming God’s way’ promises to end fertilizer woes of resource-poor farmers in the continent by providing a cheaper and less labour intensive farming method.
Food security remains the number one major challenge that citizens across the African continent contend with. While the Green Revolution of the 1960s allowed erstwhile food deficient regions of Asia and Latin America to triple crop yields, food production in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) has remained stagnant and in many instances it has even declined. According to IFPRI, among the factors fuelling the continent’s low agricultural outputs include poor resource endowments, minimal use of inputs (fertilizer, improved seeds and irrigation) and adverse policies undermining agriculture. Additionally, continuing environmental degradation, crop pests, high population growth and low levels of investment in agricultural infrastructure has further aggravated the resource limitations of agriculture in Africa.
BBSRC (Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council) and Syngenta funded scientists at the University of York and University of Durham have discovered a gene called AmGSTF1 that plays a key role in controlling multiple herbicide resistance in black-grass (Alopecurus myosuroides) and annual rye-grass (Lolium rigidum). Now the gene that confers resistance has been identified, it is hoped that chemicals that inhibit the gene may be able to be used in future to make herbicides effective against resistant weeds.
Black-grass and rye-grass are widespread weeds which cause problems in cereal and oilseed rape farming. Management using herbicides is becoming increasingly difficult since both black-grass and rye-grass can acquire a single defence mechanism that confers resistance to multiple herbicides- known as multiple herbicide resistance. The genetics of multiple herbicide resistance have been poorly understood until recently, however scientists have now discovered that a gene producing an enzyme called glutathione transferase (GST) is responsible for multiple herbicide resistance. Scientists created transgenic thale cress (Arabidopsis thaliana) plants with the GST producing gene inserted which were resistant. GSTs are known to detoxify herbicides, but project leader Professor Rob Edwards of the Centre for Novel Agricultural Products at the University of York believes that the gene they discovered works as a kind of ‘master switch’ that activates a range of protective mechanisms in the plant. When resistant plants with the GST gene are sprayed with GST inhibiting chemicals, they become susceptible to herbicides. This demonstrates the potential for using GST inhibiting compounds in future herbicide formulations to manage resistant rye-grass and black-grass. These weeds are currently very difficult to manage due to their widespread herbicide resistance.
Vegetable farmers in the Kayunga and Mukono districts of Uganda are reporting crop losses due to black rot disease. One farmer, Twaha Kahooza of Kyampisi village, Kayunga Sub-county, says he had planted four acres of cabbages and was expecting about Shs18m (about £4,500 or US$7,000) from the harvest, however he only managed to get Shs5m (about £1,200 or US$2,000).
Black rot is caused by the bacterium Xanthomonas campestris pv. campestris and is one of the most destructive diseases of cabbage and other crucifers such as broccoli, brussels sprouts, Chinese cabbage, collards, kohlrabi and mustard. The disease is usually most prevalent in low lying areas where plants remain wet for long periods. The disease is characterized by a yellow V-shaped lesion at the leaf margin which turns brown as the leaf area expands. The disease can also affect seedlings and can enter the plant through insect feeding or injury to the plant. Management of black rot in crucifers includes obtaining certified, pathogen free seed, ensuring there is enough space between plants and crop rotation.To read more about black rot and black rot management visit factsheets on the Plantwise Knowledge Bank.
To read a Plantwise Factsheet for Farmers written in Uganda click here.
To find out more about Plantwise plant clinics running in Uganda, click here
Maize Lethal Necrosis disease, which was first reported in Kenya and Tanzania, has now spread to Uganda, raising concerns for food security in the country. The Ministry of Agriculture has warned that Maize Lethal Necrosis has been reported in districts in eastern Uganda, including Busia and Tororo.