Uganda: Text messages are new weapon in fight against banana disease (Inter Press Service)

| April 20, 2009

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The first symptoms of banana disease are subtle. Dark green streaks suggest that aphids have been crawling on the leaves, spreading bunchy top virus. Yellowing leaves are a sign that banana bacterial wilt has struck. When farmers see these signs, it means just one thing: they need to act fast or risk losing their entire crop.

Banana disease has been spreading across Uganda for the past seven years. Banana bunchy top virus stunts the growth of fruit while banana wilt causes it to rot.

Farmers in the Mbale and Mbusheni districts have seen the destruction these diseases can cause. But now they know how to stop banana disease in its tracks. And it’s all thanks to a project that uses new cell phone technology.

Whitney Gantt is a program officer with the Grameen Foundation. She explains that the project links farmers and community knowledge workers through text messages. Knowledge workers are locals who are trained to deliver information to farmers. They use their phones to type messages on how to combat disease. In fields across a district, farmers read the messages on their cell phone screens. If they have questions, they can text back and wait for a reply.

The effort has yielded impressive results. Farmers in Mbale and Mbusheni halted the spread of banana wilt and bunchy top virus. They are also armed with information on how to keep disease out of their fields in the future. They know where to buy disease-free planting material and how to discourage disease by caring for the soil.

Ms. Gantt says the Grameen Foundation will expand the project to other parts of Uganda.