Reduction in cassava production due to cassava mosaic disease (CMD) and cassava brown streak disease (CBSD) threatens food security.
As Uganda takes steps to make cassava an eco-friendly feedstock for ethanol production, agricultural experts say the crop still faces disastrous diseases that have perennially caused severe yield losses and threatened food security.
Dr Titus Alitai, a principal scientist at the National Agricultural Research Organization (NARO) contends that any reduction in cassava production due to cassava mosaic disease (CMD) and cassava brown streak disease (CBSD) threatens not only food security, but would also cause havoc to government plans of supporting a project that seeks to utilize cassava pulp for ethanol production.
At the tail end of last year, President Yoweri Museveni pledged government support for a project in the northern part of the country that produces denatured ethanol stoves and that is intended, in the long term, to establish ethanol derived from cassava a sustainable alternative cooking fuel.
Taking a long view, Museveni noted that if the project obtained a firm footing, Uganda would be able to export fuel made from cassava to other countries in the region.
But that depends on a consistent supply of cassava, which has struggled to overcome disease issues. CMD and CBSD still remain a threat and that status quo has been helped by poor farming practices, such as recycling seed cuttings beyond recommended times.
“On the CMD and CBSD mitigation front, there have been inroads made in recent years, principally with the development and distribution of improved cassava varieties such as NASE14, NASE 19 and NARO CASS 1 to farmers by the National Agricultural Research Organization,” Alitai said.
It is not clear, however, if some of the resistant cassava varieties that will likely be supplied by the National Crops Resources Research Institute, which is one of the six National Agricultural Research Institutes mandated to conduct, carry out research and knowledge generation on how to deal with crop diseases such as CMD, will be genetically modified (GM) cassava.
Research findings from the National Agricultural Research Organization have shown that GM cassava is resistant to CMD and CBSD.
Many scientists across the East African region have advocated for the adoption of GM cassava as a means of sustainably enhancing Uganda’s food security. But the country’s environment policy regarding the adoption of biotechnology has in recent years been erratic, if not checkered.
In 2017, a biotechnology and biosafety bill was passed, but it was referred back by the President for adjustments. It was passed yet again in 2018, but with stern liability sections that analysts say impede biotechnology development in the country.
In Uganda, CMD accounts for an estimated annual yield loss of more than 60 million US dollars and it has, by all accounts, been singled out as the biggest economic constraint to the production of cassava in sub-Saharan Africa.
The impact of CMD on Uganda’s cassava production was not considered grave until the late 1980s when its devastating effect was experienced in the north-west of the country. The outbreak caused the disappearance of a cassava landrace called Ebwanatereka, which was widely distributed in the country in the 1980s.
Cassava brown streak disease, on the other hand, is thought to be the most devastating cassava disease in southern, eastern and central Africa. It reportedly can cause up to 100% yield loss.
As a means of combating CMD, a Ugandan computer scientist Dr Jennifer Rose Aduwo has developed a computer application based on an artificial neural network that can automatically detect the disease.
Aduwo, the Dean of the Uganda Management Institute’s School of Distance Learning and Information Technology, revealed that the application has already provided an accurate rate of 97.2% for CMD’s classification and 88% for the disease’s severity grading.
“This model will help reduce the high cassava yield losses Uganda suffers annually due to CMD,” she said.
“What is expected is that timely and fast information provided by the model from farmers or agricultural extension workers, at the click of a button from an internet-connected smartphone which has captured cassava leaf images from gardens for the disease’s detection/classification, will be sent to a team at the National Crops Resources Research Institute at Namulonge who will, in turn, develop effective disease contingencies and supply CMD resistant varieties to affected regions across the country,” she added.
“The process of capturing the cassava leaf image from the cassava garden and sending to a computer server for CMD detection/classification takes less than a minute, provided there is an internet connection.”
Alitai said Aduwo’s app will improve on the efficiency and scale at which the CMD disease’s data is collected.
“With her app, we shall be able to know which areas around the country need speedy interventions. Previously, we did surveys, but the processing of data took months but with this digital platform, data on CMD will be availed within a short time.”
In the past 10 years, several research papers on the CMD by Aduwo have been published and have received golden opinions, for good measures.
Her research publication journey on automating CMD set forth in 2010 when Google gave Aduwo and her two research colleagues a $10,000 grant. At length, they produced the paper entitled “Automated learning-based diagnosis of CMD”. Several other papers followed in subsequent years.
Original Post: New Vision
Report links 1,600 deaths to pesticide poisoning
A total of 1,599 deaths between 2017 and 2022 were linked to organophosphate (pesticide) poisoning, researchers from Uganda National Institute of Public Health (UNIPH) and the Health ministry found.This information is in one of the reports presented yesterday during the 9th National Field Epidemiology Conference in Kampala.
The study led by Mr Robert Zavuga was based on the data from the District Health Information System (of the Health ministry), which is received from health facilities across the country.“A total of 37,883 (average of 6,314 per year) organophosphate (OP) [health facility] admissions and 1,599 (average of 267 per year) deaths were reported,” the report reads.
OP admission was defined by researchers as a hospital stay due to suspected OP poisoning. In contrast, OP poisoning death was defined as inpatient death with OP poisoning listed as the cause of death.The researchers linked the poisoning to the widespread use of OP pesticides by farmers in the country amid limited knowledge of how to use the pesticides safely.
“Uganda has an agricultural-based economy with widespread use of organophosphate-based pesticides. This elevates the risk for OP poisoning in the population,” the report reads further.According to the report, the overall average incidence was 15 organophosphate admissions per 100,000 persons.
On areas, sex and age that are most affected, the report indicates, “residents of Ankole Sub-region were more affected while those in Lango Sub-region were least affected.”“Males had a higher incidence of organophosphate poisoning than females. Children under 5 years had a higher incidence than persons above 5 years (20 vs 14/100,000),” the report said.
Overall, 1,599 (average of 267 per year) deaths were reported between 2017 and 2022. Residents in Kampala had the highest overall case fatality rate (CFR) while those in Teso had the lowest (CFR: 8.5 percent vs 2.2 percent),” the report reads.
According to the report released yesterday, “there was more than 3-fold decline in incidence of OP poisoning admissions per 100,000 population from 2017-2022,” however, the researchers noted, “there was no significant change in the case fatality rate of organophosphate poisoning.”
“The incidence of organophosphate poisoning admissions declined throughout the study period. Since 2014, Uganda has implemented periodic public awareness campaigns about safe use of pesticides for small-holder farmers and pesticide dealers,” the report says.
“These campaigns have included sensitisation about responsible handling to reduce risk of poisoning and environmental pollution.
Additional campaigns targeting government pesticide regulators, non-governmental organisations, and media have also been implemented to address the dangers of organophosphate poisoning,” it adds.
The report says Uganda has also implemented the Agricultural Chemical Control Act to use less toxic pesticides, which may be contributing to the reduction in organophosphate poisonings.“To continue this decline, it is important to monitor and strengthen these interventions,” the researchers from UNIPH and Health ministry recommended.
Statement: The Energy Sector Strategy 2024–2028 Must Mark the End of the EBRD’s Support to Fossil Fuels
The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) is due to publish a new Energy Sector Strategy before the end of 2023. A total of 130 civil society organizations from over 40 countries have released a statement calling on the EBRD to end finance for all fossil fuels, including gas.
From 2018 to 2021, the EBRD invested EUR 2.9 billion in the fossil energy sector, with the majority of this support going to gas. This makes it the third biggest funder of fossil fuels among all multilateral development banks, behind the World Bank Group and the Islamic Development Bank.
The EBRD has already excluded coal and upstream oil and gas fields from its financing. The draft Energy Sector Strategy further excludes oil transportation and oil-fired electricity generation. However, the draft strategy would continue to allow some investment in new fossil gas pipelines and other transportation infrastructure, as well as gas power generation and heating.
In the statement, the civil society organizations point out that any new support to gas risks locking in outdated energy infrastructure in places that need investments in clean energy the most. At the same time, they highlight, ending support to fossil gas is necessary, not only for climate security, but also for ensuring energy security, since continued investment in gas exposes countries of operation to high and volatile energy prices that can have a severe impact on their ability to reach development targets. Moreover, they underscore that supporting new gas transportation infrastructure is not a solution to the current energy crisis, given that new infrastructure would not come online for several years, well after the crisis has passed.
The signatories of the statement call on the EBRD to amend the Energy Sector Strategy to
- fully exclude new investments in midstream and downstream gas projects;
- avoid loopholes involving the use of unproven or uneconomic technologies, as well as aspirational but meaningless mitigation measures such as “CCS-readiness”; and
- strengthen the requirements for financial intermediaries where the intended nature of the sub-transactions is not known to exclude fossil fuel finance across the entire value chain.
Download the statement: https://www.iisd.org/system/files/2023-09/ngo-statement-on-energy-sector-strategy-2024-2028.pdf
Kigezi In Famine Scare After Drought Hits The Region
Farmers in Rubanda district are living in fear that they may be hit by famine due to the prolonged drought that has greatly affected the area. This comes after the area was hit by heavy rains in the month of May 2023, which left most of the gardens washed away, and since then the dry season has started up to date.
This is the first of its kind for Rubanda district and Kigezi at large to undergo such a prolonged drought.
According to farmers, this is the first of its kind for Rubanda to go through a long drought, adding that they are in fear that they may be hit by famine since they were used to receiving rains at the beginning of August, which is not the case this year. They add that even the seedlings that they had planted excepting that the rains would come have all dried up by the long spell.
Farmers also say that they don’t know what could be the cause that has stopped the rains,adding that the government should come up with a program that provides them with seedlings.
Akampurira Prossy Mbabazi, a woman Member of Parliament for Rubanda District, says that the issue of drought is not only in Rubanda District; however, this is the first of its kind. She adds that the drought comes after the area was hit by heavy rains, which caused a lot of challenges, adding that now it is the drought that may affect the farmers.
Akampurira further says that, as a leader,she will continue to educate farmers on better methods of farming depending on climate change.
Kikafunda Evelyne, founder of Green Environment Promotion (GEP), says it’s sad that farmers in Rubanda district and Kigezi at large are experiencing a long drought. She attributes it to problems of environmental degradation that include swamps being reclaimed, deforestation, and plastic pollution, adding that this is an indication that people don’t mind about the environment.
Kikafunda calls upon all people to take part in protecting the environment, adding that environmentalists should devise means on how to protect the environment.
It’s now been four months since it last rained in the districts of greater Kabale, that is, Rubanda, Kabale, and Rukiga districts, as well as other parts of the Kigezi Subregion.
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