Eastern Africa

Digital app developed to detect bacterial wilt disease in banana

IITA-Rwanda and partners recently launched a digital application to help more than 5,000 farmers across the country to diagnose, control, and prevent Banana Xanthomonas Wilt (BXW) in banana plantations.

The app, called BXW Application (or BXW-App, pronounced “Box-Up”), provides a digital approach that helps farmers to diagnose BXW in their fields and take immediate action. This is part of an early warning system to combat the disease and prevent its spread to neighboring plants/farmland.

The BXW-App is being tested in eight districts of Rwanda: Gatsibo, Kayonza, Muhanga, Gisagara, Rulindo, Burera, Karongi, and Rubavu with 69 Rwandan farmer promoters. Other interested users across the country can also access and use the application, which is configured in the national Kinyarwanda language.

Julius Adewopo, who leads the project “Citizen science and ICT for advancing the prevention and control of Banana Xanthomonas Wilt (ICT4BXW)” at IITA-Rwanda, said: “We believe you cannot control what you cannot monitor. We are convinced that the first step in controlling BXW is to develop a functioning and automated system that enables real-time reporting and monitoring of disease incidences and empowers observers (farmers or any citizen) in the field to deploy relevant control measures.”

The project is being implemented in collaboration with partners, including the Rwanda Agriculture and Animal Resource Development Board (RAB), Bioversity International, and Leibniz Institute of Agricultural Development in Transition Economies (IAMO) with financial support from Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ). The project aligns with the ICT for Rwanda in Agriculture (ICT4RAg) Strategy 2016‒2020 of the Ministry of Agriculture and Animal Resources.

By 2020, the project aims to have fully piloted the decision-support tool, reaching at least 5,000 banana farmers. After that, the project partners aim to secure a second phase to actively promote the tool for use on a larger scale in Rwanda and elsewhere in the African Great Lakes region.

Farmer-promoters, during a field visit to one of the focal districts for testing BXW-App, noted that the app has greatly facilitated their role and improved their engagement with farmers, providing a credible advisory support for banana production.

Umutoni Mathilde, Farmer-Promoter in Kayonza District, said, “Before this app for BXW was introduced, we used paper and walked long distances to make a report. Now we diagnose and report BXW incidences using the App (and phone) immediately. Moreover, when we train farmers using the ICT4BXW application, they are easily convinced, as they see that the information we are giving them comes from a credible source…So we go through all the steps together, seeing pictures on the phone, showing various steps that are followed until it indicates whether the banana stem has or does not have BXW.”

Sixty-nine farmer-promoters have been trained under this project in partnership with the Rwanda Agriculture and Animal Resource Development Board (RAB), to use BXW-App for diagnosis and control of BXW in farmers’ fields. They have also been equipped with smartphones to facilitate their implementation of this pilot exercise.

Murenzi Vianney, Officer in charge of Agriculture in Kayonza District, emphasized: “This application is helping us to witness in real time the signs of BXW in banana fields. Before BXW-App came, signs of BXW in a banana stem could be confusing. For example, it was difficult to know if the plant sap that comes out when you cut a banana stem has BXW or not. But BXW-App shows photos of what the infected plant sap looks like, so a farmer can compare this with what is on a cut banana stem, then decide if it is BXW.”

BXW-App was developed through an inclusive and participatory design process. It has four modules: module 1 introduces why it is important to control BXW; module 2 enables users to diagnose the disease step by step—by observing the banana field/stands and answering questions as prompted by the app; module 3 provides on-site recommendations for controlling BXW; and module 4 offers general agronomic information for banana management as an add-on incentive to produce healthy and productive banana. BXW-App may be extended to other African countries if piloting and scaling are successfully implemented in Rwanda.

BXW-App is now available on Google Play Store for android phones. Users can access, download, and use it to systematically diagnose BXW in banana farms, and much more!

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