As climate change intensifies worldwide, rising temperatures create ideal conditions for pest infestations. According to recent population reports, the situation has proved dire for Africa’s agricultural sector, which feeds nearly 1.4 billion people.
Africa’s agricultural sector is paramount to its society and economic prosperity. In sub-Saharan Africa, where agriculture accounts for 23% of the gross domestic product (GDP), there’s significant growth potential – analyses suggest that Africa could add 20% more cereals and grains to the global food supply by ramping up production.
Unfortunately, farmers must overcome the challenges of managing crop pests first. Here’s a closer look at how smartphone apps are helping African farmers safeguard their crops.
African Farmers at War With Pests
Pests pose significant problems for farmers and public health. For instance, rodents can spread salmonella and other hazardous bacteria, which may end up in water used for irrigation. On the other hand, insects often feed on crops, ruining farmers’ yields.
Few pests have caused as much damage throughout Africa as the fall armyworm. West African farmers have worked tirelessly to reduce fall armyworm outbreaks since its introduction to the continent in the 1970s. The fall armyworm has proven itself capable of destroying 40% of maize in four months and 50% of cassava chips in three months.
In East Africa, a locust plague continuously wreaks havoc on crops and pasturelands. Following wet conditions, one locust generation can produce a new generation 20 times larger than the last. Following two unusual storm systems in the Arabian deserts in 2018, locust breeding increased nearly 8,000-fold.
Kenya also reported its worst locust infestation in 70 years in 2020, in which the insects ate enough food for 35,000 people in one day.
The economic implications of agricultural pest infestations in Africa are just as concerning. According to one study, pests cost Africa $64.58 billion in damages due to crop yield losses.
Pest Infestations in Africa: There’s an App for That
Farmers approach pest management in several different ways. Some use synthetic pesticides, from which many encourage the transition to more organic methods. Others try biological techniques, such as releasing predatory insects to eat pest populations.
While some methods have proven more effective than others, they have yet to produce the kind of results farmers would like.
Fortunately, researchers at Penn State University and the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) have long recognized the dire need for a solution to Africa’s crop pest situation. In response, their teams developed a practical mobile app called Nuru.
Nuru has two primary objectives: Help sub-Saharan farmers identify fall armyworm outbreaks and allow them to take the necessary steps to eradicate them before they spread. Its launch follows another FAO app – Fall Armyworm Monitoring and Early Warning System (FAMEWS) – which is a repository of crop pest resources explaining where and how fall armyworms spread.
Nuru utilizes artificial intelligence and high-tech image recognition to confirm whether fall armyworms are, in fact, attacking crops. Farmers must simply photograph the infested plant through the app, which will then provide a real-time diagnosis.
In March 2022, Penn State’s app developers worked alongside researchers at the International Potato Center to improve the app’s diagnostic capabilities for sweet potatoes. Potato varieties are a major commodity in sub-Saharan Africa and critical for economic and food security.
Sweet potatoes are also vulnerable to 30 viruses carried by various insects, including aphids and whiteflies. Depending on when disease strikes and how quickly it spreads, it could destroy 60% of potato crops in weeks.
Typically, farmers use chemical solutions to eradicate both pests and diseases. However, toxic chemicals can hinder soil fertility, pose a human health risk, and lead to pesticide immunity.
Mobile Tools Improve Pest Management
Utilizing mobile apps for pest management is a smart move for African farmers to protect their crops free of cost. Bolstering the food supply and economy is critical, as the continent already faces climate change effects.
From here, agricultural technology advancements and the future development of mobile applications will be supreme tools to boost crop productivity and yields.