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Uganda launches mobile application to fight fall army worm

By Ronald Ssekandi MUKONO, Uganda, (Xinhua) -- Ernest Bongole, a farmer in the central Uganda district of Mukono, almost lost his entire one acre maize garden to the devastating fall army worm (FAW).

Bongole had anticipated that he would have a bumper harvest so that he could give some of the maize to the school where his children go.

“That caterpillar affected my maize garden a lot, I struggled to get enough maize to give to the school to allow my children to study,” he told Xinhua on Monday.

Out of desperacy, Bongole resorted to the use of pesticides, which had side effects on his skin as he did not have protective gear.

He is among the 3.6 million farmers or 9 percent of the country’s population that lost an estimated 450,000 tonnes of maize or an equivalent to 192 million U.S. dollars during the first cropping season of 2017, according to government figures.

The country on Monday launched the FAW Monitoring and Early Warning System (FAMEWS), a mobile application that can be used as a monitoring and early warning tool.

Speaking at the launch in the central Ugandan district of Mukono, Charles Owach, an official from the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), said the move is critical in ensuring food security and economic livelihood of farmers.

He said FAMEWS works as an early warning system that policy makers and government can use to warn farmers and also devise means of combating the worm that eats the leafy parts of crops like maize and rice.

Owach handed over 126 smart phones installed with the application to the Ugandan government, noting that they will be distributed to 100 villages across the country, especially in 15 districts that have had the worst effects.

Owach said it is a pilot project that will eventually be rolled out to all parts of the country to curb the threat that the worm presents to food security.

John Bahana, a specialist in FAW, said that working through farmer groups, their leaders would be provided with the phones. When they open the application, the feed in the data from the garden for instance how many worms they have seen and then send the information to a national data center.

At the data center, the information will be analyzed and basing on the results, appropriate actions will be taken at country and continental level.

Bahana said that when the devastating transboundary caterpillars pupate into a moth, they can fly up to 500 km in a day depending on the speed of wind.

He said each moth has the capacity of laying over 2,000 eggs which can hatch in a short time.

FAO also gave farmers traps lured with a chemical that attracts male months.

Bahana said once the farmers notice an increase in the number of the moths trapped, they have to start managing their gardens by spraying with insecticide.

Stephen Byantwale Tibeijuka, commissioner for crop protection at the ministry of agriculture, animal industry and fisheries said there are other methods that are still under investigation to fight the FAW.

He said preliminary research has showed that there are flies that feed on the worm and therefore can help in decimating it. Research is also ongoing on fungus and nematodes.

He urged farmers that although the destruction rate of the FAW has reduced, they should not get tired of monitoring their gardens, noting that once they notice that 2 of 10 crops are affected, they must destroy the worm.


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