Home / Science-fiction or tomorrow's reality?: ICT and citizen science for the management of Banana Xanthomonas Wilt in East and Central Africa.

Science-fiction or tomorrow's reality?: ICT and citizen science for the management of Banana Xanthomonas Wilt in East and Central Africa.

In this blogpost, Mariette McCampbell and Marc Schut set out the case for citizen science

Science fiction?

Imagine this scenario: Solange, a farmer in Rwanda notices that some of the banana bunches in her plantation are turning black. She suspects that it is Banana Xanthomonas Wilt (BXW), based on what she had heard from her neighbors. Solange also recently received a warning message from the government’s digital extension service. To be certain, she uses her smart phone to verify whether it is really BXW that is damaging her bananas. Within minutes the tool confirms Solange’s fears. Luckily, because she spotted the symptoms early, only few plants are infected. The online system informs her that Single Diseased Stem Removal would be most effective to remove the diseased plants from her field. 

Solange contacts the sector agronomist through WhatsApp, informing him about the presence of the disease and requesting additional information. The agronomist informs her that several other farmers in the area had also reported BXW to him and requested support. Soon after, all registered farmers receive a message informing them of the outbreak. The district agricultural officer organizes a meeting for farmers to demonstrate proper disease management and field monitoring to prevent future outbreaks. This approach means farmers can provide geospatial data every time they use their phone to solve their problems. This data contributes to what is called ‘citizen science’, helping scientists and policy makers to effectively address problems of other farmers too. 

Above: fictive examples of smart phone and basic phone based ICT applications that can support citizen science and interaction between farmers and extension providers.

 Today's reality? 

Banana Xanthomonas Wilt affects all major banana regions in East and Central Africa. High crop losses can have a devastating impact on income, food and nutrition security for farmer households. Over the past decade, CIALCA has invested heavily in understanding and addressing the social, cultural, economic and political dimensions of the BXW problem. Social issues are related to diversity in banana-based systems and the fact that one-size-fits-all approaches poorly target the needs and demands of smallholders of different socio-economic, gender and age groups (Frelat et al., 2016). Cultural issues are related to low awareness about BXW among both farmers and extension providers resulting in inefficient disease control. CIALCA has developed BXW control strategies that are more farmer-friendly, such as Single Disease Stem Removal (Blomme et al., 2017). Economic issues are a consequence of the lack of a predictive early warning system complicates effective extension to farmers resulting in inefficient disease prevention and increasing disease spread, reinfection and yield losses. Political issues include poor collaboration of stakeholders across various levels resulting in low adoption of BXW control and prevention technologies by farmers and limited buy-in by governments. Over the past years, CIALCA has contributed to building and improving understanding of how multi-stakeholder partnerships can be organized to overcome complex agricultural problems such as BXW (e.g. Hermans et al., 2017, Schut et al., 2016). 

Right: Problem tree visualizing the main direct and indirect causes of ineffective BXW control and prevention.

Tomorrow's promise?

IITA and Bioversity International together with their partners are continuing to explore how we can build on existing CIALCA data and innovations, and by using new technologies, methods and approaches to develop (cost-) effective tools to advance the prevention and control of BXW. We also look forward to working with the PROMUSA banana knowledge sharing platform. CIALCA is committed to delivering compelling scientific evidence that will provide a basis for engagement with government and other public and private scaling actors. In addition, the envisaged ICT infrastructure and impact pathway will be adaptable to other crops, diseases and region to further increase the scale of impact.

Building towards tomorrow’s reality starts today!

Authors: Mariette McCampbell  and Marc Schut 

For more information about this project and other CIALCA activities please contact Dr. Marc Schut. 



Latest Publication

CIALCA project report: 2013-16
Report documenting CIALCA's vision, progress and achievements during Phase 3 (2013-2016).

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