Reaching more farmers with fall armyworm knowledge and information through ICT-enabled extension

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A community video screening on fall armyworm

Since 2017, CABI and partners have launched a series of extension campaigns in Kenya and Uganda in the fight against the invasive pest fall armyworm. These campaigns used integrated ICT-enabled approaches combining radio, SMS, and community video screenings with the aim of improving awareness, knowledge and management practices for fall armyworm.

Although smallholder agriculture is the main contributor to agricultural production in Africa and vital to food and nutritional security, agricultural productivity generally remains low.

While extension services play a key role in disseminating productivity enhancing technologies, unfortunately, this tends to be limited due to a range of constraints such as low funding and resource, compounded by the fact that the farmers who need it most tend to be in far-flung locations. In Kenya, the extension to farmer ratio averages 1:1000, and in Uganda in 2016/17 only 5% of farmers had access to extension services. This is where extension supported by ICTs, can play a key role in helping farmers by sharing knowledge and technology to increase their yields and incomes.

In a recent review, CABI authors looked at the use of ICT-enabled extension approaches in reaching a wide range of stakeholders with messages on fall armyworm identification, monitoring and management. The review aimed to assess the reach and effectiveness of the messages as well as better understand the potential for scale-up and sustainability.

Native to South America, fall armyworm (Spodoptera frugiperda) was first confirmed in Nigeria in 2016 and by 2018 had spread to most countries in sub-Saharan Africa. The highly invasive pest is able to reproduce quickly and fly hundreds of kilometres (aided by prevailing winds) meaning it can arrive on a new farm, in a different country literally overnight.

It has proven to be a real threat to food security and farmer incomes causing serious losses to maize yields in particular. Not only this but the added labour of controlling the pest and increased costs of production all negatively affect household incomes.

Throughout 2017 and 2018, fall armyworm campaigns were implemented in Kenya and Uganda targeted at key maize growing areas and locations where reports of fall armyworm were severe. The extension messages covered: land preparation and planting, pest scouting, identifying fall armyworm, decision making on interventions, and harvest and post-harvest handling. Messages were developed in English and local languages and were synchronized to the growing season to ensure they were relevant for farmers at the time to act.

Throughout Kenya and Uganda, the campaigns reached a combined total of 533,828 farmers. In Uganda the campaign included a range of channels; SMS, video screenings, and community radio. A field survey at the end of the campaign found a significant difference between farmers who had received this information than those who had not. In fact, discernible differences were seen in the practicing of regular monitoring, early planting and frequent weeding, and the use of chemical pesticides.

In Kenya, a telephone survey of farmers who subscribed to the SMS service platform revealed that 80% of subscribers learnt new things, in particular information on pesticides and when to apply them, cultural practices, and how to determine the extent of infestation.

These assessments show that using ICT-based extension campaigns can make a significant difference in farmers’ knowledge on fall armyworm and motivate the adoption of new management practices. The speed at which fall armyworm is able to spread only serves to highlight the need for urgency in raising awareness and sharing information with those who need it most.

However, the fall armyworm invasion revealed that many countries were not prepared or equipped to do this, proving much more guidance from a communications perspective is needed at a government level. To meet this need, CABI and partners are developing a strategic communication framework for pest outbreaks with the support of a reference group of organisations that includes Ministry of Agriculture representatives, CIMMYT, IITA, AU-IAPSC, Farm Radio International, and FAO. This document, expected to launch later this year, will be one of a set of protocols to support government response to outbreaks and includes information on the case for communication during an outbreak, funding provisions, coordination of partners, approaches, and monitoring and evaluating activities.

Tackling a fast-moving invasive pest like fall armyworm has shown that ICT-enabled approaches can make an impact; improving the knowledge not only of the farmers themselves but also extension agents, and more importantly facilitating behavioural changes.

Read about the research in full as published in open access journal Plos One:
The impact of ICT-enabled extension campaign on farmers’ knowledge and management of fall armyworm in Uganda
Justice A. Tambo , Caroline Aliamo, Tamsin Davis, Idah Mugambi, Dannie Romney, David O. Onyango, Monica Kansiime, Christine Alokit, Stephen T. Byantwale

View a presentation on the review below:

More on fall armyworm

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